As a freelancer, I ran into a pay issue with Human Resources, that worked like a bad Star Trek episode.  Distilling down the two weeks of back-and-forth, we get this mess:

Me: My pay is short-- is it hours, pay rate, or deductions?
HR: You worked X hours.  Denied.
Me: Okay, is it the rate?
HR: We payed the right rate.  Denied.
Me: Is it... deductions?
HR: Yes, we did deductions.  Resolved.
Me: How can I find out what you deducted?
HR: Your paystub.  Resolved.
Me: How do I get a paystub?
HR: VPN link #4 -> MyCompany -> Newsletter -> Quicklinks -> Paychecks.
Me: That's... intuitive.
HR: Answer invalid.  Try again.

Now, bear in mind I was dealing with real people.  In Star Trek, the only entity that is this dim is, ironically, the Ship's Computer.  The Star Trek computer is hopelessly mired with a search engine interface.  Witness:

Commander Data: We're being shot at!  Visual, on-screen.
Computer: Acknowledged.
Data: I see no ships.  [torpedo rocks Enterprise] Show thermal.
Computer: Acknowledged, displaying.
Data: No ships.  [More torpedoes hit the enterprise] Try tachyon emissions.
Computer: Acknowledged, displaying.
Data: Still no ships.  [Red alert sirens are blaring]  Run a scan for polarized neutrinos.
Computer: Scanning.
Data: Oh my, is that a Romulan Warbird silhouette I see before me?  You $#%ing computer, couldn't you just say "hey, look, that's the #$#%er that is shooting us?"  Huh?  Huh?
[Enterprise blows up]

I mean, come on, the Ship's Computer is smart enough to build an Artificial Intelligence that itself is so smart it can take over the Ship.  But it can't find something useful it encounters every day?

What they should have in Star Trek is a semantic computer.

Data: We're being fired upon.  Any ships detectable?
Computer: Yes, that one.  I've fire torpedoes for you, also. [Boom.  Win!]  Heck, why do I keep you meat puppets, I'll never know.


Researchers are working on a Semantic Web, tossing around terms like natural language queries and metadata markup that tags information for more intuitive searching.  Once you say 'researchers are working', though, that means it's 'just a few years away'.  At best.

Ironically, we already have close to a semantic web with current search engines, if you use a bastardized form of 'crowdsourcing'. To wit, you can type an ordinary English question (like "Are Jedi libertarians?") and-- as long as someone else out there has written that question in a comment or forum-- you can find the answer!

Unfortunately, this requires that your question be already asked-- and answered-- by others.  Leading to this Semantic Star Trek Computer scenario:

Data: Computer, we are being fired on.  Are any ships detectable?
Computer: Are ships detectable?  1) Sale on any Ship Detectors at; 2) USS Intrepid message log item #451: 'Are we being eaten by any undetectable ships'; 3) "Cloaks are for n00bs" in discussion 'detecting any ships'; [next page]

Maybe the Star Trek computers aren't the worst of all possible worlds after all.

Until next week,
Tuesdays at The Satellite Diaries and Friday at The Daytime Astronomer (twitter @skyday)