First my credentials to even make a statement on the nature of control systems. In my real life I design and operated control systems for large scale physics research devices, like particle accelerators. I have experience in nuclear, steam and gas turbine ship power plants and in commercial power production. For the past eight years I have worked on a DOE electron accelerator, which has an entirely digital control system. So in many ways I have real life experience in comparing digital and analog control systems.
Let me say from the outset that operation of such machines would not be possible without computer control. No human could control devices fast enough or with fine enough granularity to enable such machines to operate. I see space craft as much the same. Few humans would be capable of performing the required functions fast enough and accurately enough to pilot a Traveller spacecraft or operate Traveller style weapons. Aiming a laser at 30,000 km range is not going to be done with a set of cross hairs and a couple of levers.
I've been involved in hundreds of accident investigations. Accidents seldom have a single cause. Most often the cause can be attributed to either human error or equipment malfunction that can also be attributed to human error (broken equipment not repaired, broken processes that negate installed equipment safety functions, etc.) In only a very small case can genuine equipment design faults be considered the primary cause of an accident.
The bottom line. Humans in the system are the problem. They get tired, they get bored, they respond to pressure which push them to make decisions which in the light of day are obviously flawed.
Well designed equipment, operating within its designed parameters will always out perform a human.
Lets deal with the first statement. By the time of the Third Imperium the Vilani have had spaceflight for almost 10,000 years. One could reasonably say they know how to build spacecraft and their control systems. The Imperium is also very conservative. Technology does not change rapidly. It appears from canon that very little technological progress has been made in centuries, at least not radical technological progress. That means, to me at least, that grandpa's flight computer was probably the same model our intrepid PCs are using. You are not likely to find much difference in devices from one century to the next. By now the equipment is well designed. (Some of the canon Traveller ships don't seem to bare this out too well, but I mostly put that down to people designing ships who have very little real world experience with military or commercial vessels, and the kinds of requirements typically enforced on their designers. Sometimes they also allow setting up a good game ploy to over ride plausibility. This is not necessarily a fatal flaw in a game, which above all should be fun and interesting.)
The second part of the statement is typically countered by saying something
like, "What about the unexpected? Humans handle the unexpected better." This
defense is primarily based on the contention that human guesses are better than
machine guesses. This has primarily been true because we do not really
understand how a human arrives at a guess. Fundamentally we suppose that
knowledge possessed by the human unconsciously affects the decision in such a
way that the odds of making the right decision is improved over the purely
logical machine method. Barring the invocation of some kind of psi effect which
is unavailable to machines this is surely bunk. A computer with powerful enough
processors, sufficient memory and sensors could reproduce this effect, with the
proper programming. Since they are likely to be able to receive much more
information and process it faster in any iterative problem they are likely to
both guess better and arrive at an answer faster, all with out any real
From a story perspective a lot depends on what the PCs expect. Some players I know prefer the retro fifties starship controls, with yoke and HUD view out the canopy window. Most prefer the configurable computer controls with the display screen as the more technologically plausible construct. A very few even prefer the Minority Report/Earth Final Conflict holographic controls, which is a little too advanced in feeling for even my taste.
I've chosen to make the touch screen with limited holographic display the standard at (G)TL10/12*. Analog, fly by wire, controls are strictly old school, appearing on (G)TL9. Static analog controls are relegated to (G)TL8.
*GURPS 3rd Ed Tech Levels are used throughout. At this time (JULY 2005) GURPS 4th Ed tech levels have not yet been established for GT. Hopefully Interstellar Wars will take care of that detail. Until that book, as well as the 4th Ed technology books Ultratech and Vehicles are out I will continue to use GURPS 3rd Ed.