Chilling Implications of... Replicators! General Tech Talk

So I thought it might be interesting to start a thread about technology in general in Trek and some chilling implications or general thoughts on applications that may be obvious if you think about it for a while but may not be implemented in the universe as far as the TV shows have showed us. I guess of course these things may have come up or been used in any of the 100’s of Trek novels that have come out, but I’ve only read like 10 or so.

So I was thinking about replicators. They take energy and produce matter in any configuration. If you reverse it, they could take any matter and convert it into energy. It kind of makes warp cores with their matter-antimatter reactions kind of obsolete, and anyone who wanted to to murder and hide the body could hide the body if you had a replicator to convert it into energy instead of using a phaser or disruptor to evaporate the body, murder weapon, or any evidence you want destroyed. It also kind of makes any rare minerals pointless to find if you can just make it with energy, sure it may be more energy effecient to find minerals or compounds that exist in nature instead of making it, but as long as you have energy to power the replicators, and know what you want to make, theoretically rare resources become limitless. Even the precious Latinum should be replicatable.

It seems like a good prop that could be used in any horror-ish scenarios or ‘episodes’ you might want to run in universe. Or adding intrigue and mystery.

Interesting thought.

It is known that replicating certain things aren’t possible (antimatter for example), so I would expect that there would be more limitations than what we actually see. The replicator is basically a mcguffin that allows writers to not need to worry about where certain things are sourced.

There is certainly room for you to put it into use for more nefarious purposes than it’s original intentions though!

It has been mentioned in a few episodes of TNG, DS9, and Voyager that replicators can’t replicate certain things. Part of it is due to complexity of the item and part is due to programming. I believe there are ‘fail-safes’ in place to prevent certain items from being replicated (like energy weapons) and possibly to prevent certain items from being reclaimed (like a once-living body).

They did make a point to specifically mention a few things over the years, one being Dilithium Crystals for older warp systems. Yes, they could technically be ‘replicated’, but somehow they do not work like they should, partly due to the natural vs artificial aspect. (Natural-made crystals function due to something other than their composition and how they look.) Another comment made on DS9 was that Latinum (specifically Gold-Pressed Latinum) could not be replicated for some reason similar to that of Dilithium. The replicator copies items programmed into it, and naturally-created/grown items have imperfections and subtle differences that make the items what they are (in regards to Latinum and Dilithium, the imperfections and impurities added to the manufacturing process is where they get their value and usefulness).

Now, there’s nothing to say that someone (for a horror-esque scenario or episode) couldn’t reprogram a replicator to bypass the fail-safes and safeguards to allow them to replicate weapons or reclaim living tissue. And honestly, if you are going to go that far, why not simply have it as a Holodeck scenario, where the safety measures are off and things operate differently than they are supposed to. ‘Oh, you are trying to open the door? A forcefield pops up in the doorway as soon as you take a step, and it severs your leg at the knee.’ or ‘As soon as you attempt to use the transporter, it locks onto a random part of your body and it dematerializes. You have no clue if it has re-materialized anywhere.’

In a few Trek novels I have read, grenades were a thing, and transporters were used to place the grenades exactly where they needed to go to blow up the boarding parties of invading forces on the ship. But yeah, if you can just use transporters to… remove parts of a person’s body to neutralize them, then that has some other implications of harm cause and whatnot.

I know that for story reasons writers on the shows have placed limitations on replicators. But what I’ve seen with SEM and other electron microscopy, analyzing crystal structures and defects and whatnot, it doesn’t seem like from a RPG perspective that you couldn’t make things different in your game to personalize the setting somewhat. Latnium and even dilithium would be able to be reproduced. But heck, you could just have a huge tank of matter and get it turned into energy directly for engines or whatnot instead of even needing dilithium.

I’m not sure if the replicators can convert matter to energy. They may be “output only” devices. To use the replicator system to dispose of a body, I’d expect you’d have to find a way to smuggle it into the ship’s raw materials storage, after which the replicator system could dematerialize the body and reassemble it as your tea, Earl Grey, hot. (Part of it, anyway- other parts of the initial mass would possibly form your new outfit for a date tomorrow night, or the cards some of the junior officers will be playing poker with later…)

You " Clean the Dishes" by recycling them in the replicator, returning the matter to energy.

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At first: Thanks for the Shipload of Ideas you have given to me.

As far as I know and as it is mentioned here there are Things that cant be replicated, like the Lathinum which is used in Gold Pressed Lathinum. Gold is the worthless carrieritem to hold the liquid and valuable Lathinum.

I myself used the Replicator as a Murderweapon in one of my Szenarios. In my universe there are failsaves, that prohibid some items and substances from beeing replicated. Also my replicators log, wo replicates what. Also the computer logs all maintanace on Replicators.
In my Adventure the Assasin broke into the System and reprogrammed the Replicator in the primary diplomatic Suite to replicate a Poison into the favourite Vino of the foreign Dignitary, when he orders it.

To dispose a human Body via the replicator would sound the Alarm, when the prep did not tinker with the safty protocols.

To amputate a bodypart via Transporter in Combat I would consider as a warcrime.

Yeah, there is definitely a recycle option, but I suspect it has safeguards to avoid dematarialising (bits of) people too easily.

Holodecks use the same basic system (TNG tech manual) so the safeguard is there too.

Having said that, safeguards can be overridden! And there will be an audit trail of the operation itself, so that would need to be carefully hidden by a murderer.

The easiest way to dispose of a body is, of course, the transporter. Set it to wide dispersal, and voila, no body - and there does appear to be limited control of transporter use, as we’ve seen several occasions where someone used the system without real authorisation.

And the Vidiian personal weapon is a combination scanner and transporter - specifically used to remove useful parts of their victims for later reuse - so we already have a precedent for partial transport there!

In terms of what replicators can’t create: I know of latinum (not specifically gold-pressed - that’s just convenient storage for the liquid metal), dilithium, anti-matter and living things (just dead ones).

@JohnDW: remember that the replicator (and other technologies) all require large amounts of energy, usually supplied by the warp core. Replicating anti-matter would be a non-starter due to the whole conservation of energy thing - you can’t get out more than you put in!

[Dusts off TNG Technical Manual]

Right then, let’s get into this.

A Replicator does not convert energy directly into matter. This is a misconception. Rather, a replicator uses technology similar to that of a transporter to materialise a source of matter into one of a number of pre-programmed forms on a molecular level. This does require a considerable amount of energy (not to mention processing power), so to conserve power, replicators draw from specific matter sources depending on what is being replicated.

Aboard a starship, this creates two categories of replicator: tool replicators which produce inorganic objects like tools, spare parts, etc., and food replicators which can produce organic materials such as food. Food replication is the more complex of the two, with replicator patterns for food containing a variety of complex molecules to synthesise and arrange. Most sickbays are equipped with a medical replicator as well, which is essentially a modified food replicator equipped to produce commonly-used medicines.

The power and storage requirements of a replicator are, however, orders of magnitude less than the logistical problems of carrying large amounts of things required on a routine basis, and especially the energy and storage cost of large amounts of perishable food and potable water. A Galaxy-class vessel’s food replicators can produce 4,500 types of food, while requiring only about 0.5% as much storage and power as that variety of food would require to carry.

Technically speaking, the replicators seen on-screen are just local terminals connecting to a wider network - a ship will have central matter sources that feed the entire replicator network (so you can get plates, cups, and cutlery with your food). However, a small food replicator is about the size of a fridge, and probably forms a core of a home kitchen for many people (once hooked up to the power supply), so long as you keep the matter source supplied. For tools, the matter source is going to be similar to Omni-gel in Mass Effect - a mass of plastic, metal, and ceramic compounds in suspension which can be assembled as required into a variety of configurations. For food, a sterilised slurry of proteins and other organic compounds is used instead. In either case, the matter source is designed to require the bare minimum of molecular manipulation in order to turn it into the end product. This is normally resupplied at a starbase, but reclamation and recycling of waste is part of the normal process to make the supply last longer. A replicator can use other matter sources, but the power cost is higher.

Pattern complexity is the next concern.

Transporters can operate at two resolutions: molecular, and quantum. Quantum resolution scans, dematerialises, and rematerialises you down to the subatomic level, and is safe for transport of living creatures, but it requires at least an order of magnitude more energy and computing power to process, and the complexity of a transporter pattern at that resolution is too vast to store away (so they’re deleted shortly after use). Molecular resolution transport is used for cargo and other things where minor subatomic variances are not of consequence, because it’s faster, less resource-intensive, and allows more to be transported at once - the scan doesn’t need to be as detailed, which makes everything easier (this is also why transporters were used for cargo for years before they were approved for personnel transport).

When a replicator materialises something, it’s operating at molecular resolution. But there are also processing tricks and methods of data compression so that replicator patterns are as small as possible - a molecular “averaging” conceptually similar to how a jpeg image doesn’t record a colour for every single pixel individually, but groups areas together and says “these are all blue”. This reduces the ‘file size’ further, allowing for a wider variety of patterns to be stored. Starfleet also modifies food patterns to improve nutritional balance. So, that bacon cheesburger you replicated is assembled from a sterile organic slurry according to an averaged, nutritionally-balanced pattern stored in the computer.

And in practice, the difference between that and the real thing is so small as to be virtually undetectable. Some people say they can taste the difference, but that might partly be snobbery.

Some substances, however, cannot be replicated - they require precision that a replicator is not equipped to produce. In some cases, this is obvious - a replicator cannot produce a living thing (only a dead version of that thing), so you find fewer replicators on Klingon ships because they prefer live food (replicated gagh just sits there in the bowl, the real stuff wriggles and squirms down your throat), including bringing along livestock like Targs to butcher. In others, there are risks - some Altarian spices become mildly toxic if replicated, presumably because of some subatomic variation. In others still, like latinum or dilithium, the material composition is too specific to be replicated effectively - a replicated version can easily be determined to be fake, or simply won’t work as needed.

(Though, on the subject of living tissue, by at least 2371, it was at least theoretically possible to use a specialised replicator to clone living organs, but this would require having the subject there to scan, it takes a lot of energy and computer power, and is extremely complex in general, as it’d be a quantum resolution creation; we see this in Voyager, where it’s considered as a possibility to replace Neelix’s stolen lungs, but dismissed due to their relative lack of familiarity with Talaxian physiology)

Similarly, some items may be too complex to replicate. It may be possible to replicate components separately and assemble them by hand, but this obviously takes time and skill.

Additionally, some objects cannot be replicated because they’re disallowed - a replicator is not permitted to create poisons or weapons, for example.

As an aside, a starship has the means to produce antideuterium (the form of antimatter used as fuel) out of deuterium, but the process is inefficient and normally only used when fuel reserves are critically low and there’s no available tanker or other refuelling facility.


Oh well, if you’re going to actually read the source material… :slight_smile:

Actually, that seems much more reasonable (if plot limiting) than my version! Thanks!

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I think I remember a DS9 episode or something where children were instructed to place their empty plates into the replicator again. So there is definitely some recycling going on. And it would make sense though, it makes for easy garbage disposal.

There is. I don’t think it’s the only reference either, but I can’t recall another one right at the moment.

And that’s before we consider recycling bodily waste! (which was alluded to on Enterprise, but never directly stated)

“Any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete…is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory there it is vitally important to get a receipt.”


Things it’s known to not be able to do
Create Antimatter
Create latinum reliably (hence its use as a currency)
Create living organisms
Create items outside the receptacle.
Create dilithium crystals

Things we know starfleet restricts:
“modern” weaponry (modern for ST, not the viewer)

Things that the replicator isn’t shown doing which make sense why it’s not shown:
dematerializing matter in the output slot (hygenic reasons - odds are a reclaimer is a separate unit in both TNG era quarters and mess halls).
extruding materials beyond the replicator. (essentially, a filming limitation)
Create items with significant inertia relative to the replicator. (would wreak havoc with the targeting array; in reality, more of a filming limitation.)

Replicators are stated in the DS9 and TNG tech manuals as being lower resolution than transporters, and explain the no live lifeforms as being due to that lower resolution.

We also know that Transporters work better with a pad at either end; replicators seem set up to be tightly constrained to requiring the box, so it’s likely making use of that optimization to keep them less resource and space intensive.

A a fun aside, there seems no reason why one couldn’t put a replication driver output through an expansion filter and output that through the transporters… in which case, boarding gets met by calibrated chemical explosive grenades and phaser mines… since it’s an obvious concept, and they don’t ever use it in DS9 and Voy, either it can’t be done, can’t be done safely (including inaccuracy of intraship beaming), or is too energy intensive. Likewise, the Borg don’t do so, either. Nor the time traveling Suliban (in Ent). We know that a Phaser can be beamed with charged cells remaining charged, so it’s not likely that it’s a power limitation.

General rule for anything not being done in the shows is because it doesn’t make for dramatic tension needed to be good television. If my ideas on how tech should be used were actually used in the shows, much if not all of the actual battle conflict wouldn’t exist. There’d have to be a different source of conflict, and people love watching action as part of their conflict so of course the tech won’t take that option away.

Not really. We see in TNG that there’s a replicator centre with open pads aboard at least Galaxy-class ships, for replicating larger items. I think the general idea is that a food replicator is intended to be inobtrusive (set into the wall, out of the way of everything else) and doesn’t really need a space larger than the dishes it replicates, so that little slot is enough.

Naturally, you don’t need to equip the device in your quarters that makes your dinner with the ability to beam things off-pad (much like I imagine that civilian-use transporter pads on Earth, for example, are pad-to-pad only) - I regard starship transporters as unusual in that they need to be equipped for pad-to-site, site-to-pad, and site-to-site use, but that also makes them more complicated.

That said, we do see padless replicator usage throughout TNG, DS9, and Voyager. It happens regularly and without comment: every time you see a character eat or drink something in the holodeck, or when they interact with simple materials, you’re seeing replicated matter.

That’s probably a variety of technical, safety, and security reasons why transporters and replicators are isolated from one another. Plus, shipboard replicators have specific prohibitions about creating weapons (they can be overridden, but should they be?), even if the technology is capable of it (such as with the self-replicating minefield deployed around the Bajoran wormhole in DS9). We don’t know much of the technical base of the Suliban. The Borg are generally not imaginative.

And, well, there’s the basic principle that always happens when Star Trek meets roleplayers: gamers trying to weaponise technologies that shouldn’t be weaponised.

Also note, Starfleet transporters are designed so that they can detect weapons in transport and disable them… but also that transporter-related weaponry exists in the franchise already. The Romulans (and a few criminal organisations that get black market Romulan tech) use micro-explosive devices that can be implanted into a target, which are set to detonate while the target is dematerialising, killing them in transport. A Bajoran scientist designed modifications to a Cardassian food replicator system that introduced a disruptive and deadly virus into the food produced. There’s presumably an ongoing arms race between people making transporters and replicators so they can’t be tampered with to make them deadly and people coming up with ways to make them deadly.

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Both TNG and Voyager make it clear that the holodeck’s holo-matter can and does survive into and through bodies, but not outside the holodecks. How? Holomatter bullets do real damage… unless you’re about 4m past the arch.

Hence, no need to have a replicator in a holodeck. Go ahead and binge, beause once you head for duty or quarters, it’s going to evaporate away in your gut…

Technically speaking, “holomatter” is a collection of photons and molecular-scale forcefield bubbles, and it can’t exist past the area containing OHDs (Omnidirectional Holographic Diodes - the basic hardware of holoprojection in the 23rd century) - we see in Voyager, for example, that the EMH can’t put his hand outside of sickbay, as it dematerialises at the room’s threshold.

But some matter does leave the holodeck - in Encounter at Farpoint, Wesley Crusher ends up falling into a stream, and is still wet when he leaves the holodeck. Similarly, in Angel One, an errant snowball flies out through the holodeck’s open doors and strikes Picard as he’s about to enter. In both cases, real water: replication, rather than a simulation made of holomatter. Further, any smells and tastes present in a holodeck simulation are, by their very nature, replication rather than holography (

The TNG technical manual backs this up:

The Holodeck utilizes two main subsystems, the holographic imagery subsystem and the matter conversion subsystem. The holographic imagery subsection creates the realistic background environments. The matter conversion subsystem creates physical “props” from the starship’s central raw matter supplies. Under normal conditions, a participant in a Holodeck simulation should not be able to detect differences between a real object and a simulated one.

Objects created on the Holodeck that are pure holographic images cannot be removed from the Holodeck, even if they appear to possess physical reality because of the focused forcebeam imagery. Objects created by replicator matter conversion do have physical reality and can indeed be removed from the Holodeck, even though they will no longer be under computer control.

Now, when the Enterprise-E is boarded by Borg and Picard asks for the holodeck safeties to be turned off… are those holomatter bullets, or replicated lead? If the safeties were on, they’d be nothing but forcefields and photons, but without the safeties, would the holodeck systems elect to replicate real bullets… that’s been debated before, with no conclusive answer provided by the movie… but there’s enough replication present in routine holodeck operations that I’m comfortable claiming that food and drink consumed on the holodeck is replicated, rather than holographic (if only because holograms don’t smell or taste of anything, and odourless, tasteless food and drink would break the immersive experience).

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Also, what would be the point in eating/drinking on the holodeck if it is not real? If it was merely holographic in nature, then it also wouldn’t have any taste, or sustenance gained from it.

Food and drink, air and moisture are all replicated matter using the holodeck grid as a ‘replicator pad’.

Edit: @Modiphius-Nathan, The bullets are still holographic. In Voyager, when the Hirogen take over the ship and turn several decks into holodecks, there are a few spots where the hologrid failed, and it is used to the crew’s advantage to cause the holographic bullets to simply vanish before they end up getting shot. The Hirogen turned off the safeties, so if they were replicated lead bullets, the crew would have still been shot.

Cyrus et al, get outside the holodeck by a couple meters before derezzing. The doc is being derezzed by the safeties.

Voyager is self-inconsistent; much of trek is on the PSBS elements.