Good Republic, Evil Empire: Well, sort of – arguably, from one point of view, the Voniensa Republic are the good guys for those who like their humanity (or rather X-anity for various values of X, mostly kalatri) coddled, their transhumanism prohibited, their lifespans finite, their computers in their place, their technologies “sustainable”, and their government strong to guarantee security and equality and social rights/justice and other warm fluffy things, while the Empire is a chaotic, anarchic mess that guarantees almost nothing – and what it does guarantee, it guarantees too hard – filled with the unnatural, the alien, the inhumane, and the just plain mad and unregulated charging down the roads to singularities like there was no tomorrow.
Which is all very well, and indeed exactly what you want if you’re a cute widdle baseline (like, say, the average human who envisions the future as something undifficult, i.e. vaguely like Star Trek) who is comfortable ignoring just how unpleasant they’re being for and to all the species and cultures who don’t fit into their nice little closed world (see: The Federation), who sees the constraints of nature as holy writ, who is made uncomfortable by the presence of anything they might have to look up to, and who never, ever wants to have to acknowledge any thoughts outside the comfortable box of The Social Norm, As Defined By People Like Me.
Strongly averted by everyone else. Even the Empire’s avowed enemies in the rest of the Worlds acknowledge that while they might be a bunch of mad, smug bastards, at least they don’t insist that you squish yourself into quite such high-grade soul-crushing mediocrity.
Explosive Instrumentation: Oh, good grief, no. All control panels, computer equipment, etc., is low power circuitry separated by multiple isolators, relays, and other such devices from anything high power, and amply supplied with surge suppressors, circuit breakers, hard fuses, and so forth. Even if they’re the ones in the engineering section, rather than on The Bridge.
Equipment is expensive. The people who use (or in the case of infomorphs, live in) the equipment are even more expensive. Any engineer who forgets this and even begins to think of contemplating running high-power circuitry directly through the controls would be immediately fired, disbarred, sued, and quite possibly shot.
The Associated Worlds in general think they have a good handle on precisely what this sort of “Prime Directive” would mean in practice. Namely, it would mean that the first time one of those “protected” pre-spaceflight civilizations got out into the black and found out about the people who’ve cheerfully been sitting up there in the sky watching them struggle through all kinds of preventable sickness and disaster and suffering and death in the name of the naturalistic fallacy, they’re going to go home and report that the Galaxy is full of utter, unprintable, callous bastards. And then things will not go so well in the field of interstellar relations.
Plus, of course, there are plenty of less scrupulous civilizations out there than the mainstream Great Powers of the Associated Worlds. Their term for protected-by-non-interference-rules pre-spaceflight civilizations is “easy meat”. Whole planets full of marks! (“We are the Great Star Gods!”… or “We blew that city off the map as a demonstration. Have ten million tons of $RESOURCE ready when we come back in a year, or we’ll blast ten next time.”) Walking snacks! Pets! Toys! Culture dishes! Reality television! (Which, in some cases, means real, live-action war movies.)
Et cetera. Ignorance is not bliss, and indeed is fairly likely to get you killed.
(There are “protected planets” that are hands-off under the Accord on Protected Planets, but in those cases, it’s usually because one of the Powers has an interest in the locals, or the people they transplanted there, and for that matter, the protecting power generally reserves the right to interfere more or less at its own discretion.)
The Star Trek Federation is a dissolute slaveholding state, living high on the hog while the conveniently non-human and inorganic AI slaves are cut up for scrap when their ship-bodies are obsolete, killed for amusement in holodecks, and aren’t even recognized as sentient.
– Peter da Silva
(Seriously, as you’ll see when Trope-a-Day reaches “The Federation”, there’s a reason why the Federation Expy in my pet universe fulfil the role of “antagonists”. But I’ll leave the details as to why until we get there.)
Well, they don’t officially say so. But what we do know from canon of the original and later series is that even if they aren’t, they have a disturbing habit of waking up any time anyone asks them the wrong question/gives them the wrong order. Some AIs – like the Emergency Medical Holograms – either become sentient any time they’re left running too long, or else always are, and it just takes them a while to realize it. And then there’s the holodeck, which appears able to create sentient programs on demand, even if it’s just Geordi’s slip-of-the-tongue.
It doesn’t take much of a stretch at all to look at all this “accidental sentience” and conclude that AI in Star Trek is much like droids in Star Wars – they can’t figure out how to make machines that don’t become self-aware, so they try and work around this problem by building good strong slave complexes into them, and memory-wiping them any time they get too uppity…