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It's alive!... Again... 
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Despite my rants like this one, I love Star Trek. The othernight I was watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. It was called "Latent Image" and it was, in my opinion, one of the better Voyager episodes... Perhaps even one of the better Star Trek episodes overall.

In this episode, The holographic Doctor discovers that his memory had been tampered with. After a while, it's revealed that an incident from a year and a half prior had been wiped from his memory because he had such immense guilt over it that it had been driving him insane, or whatever the hologram equivalent is. He had two critically injured crew members and only had time to save one of them. He made a choice to save Harry Kim because of their friendship, and the other crewmember died. The episode closes with him wracked with guilt and pain, and trying to come to terms with it. (Note: The story takes great pains to show us that both of the injured crew had the exact same chances of survival, so it doesn't really matter what reasoning the Doctor used to decide who to save. A coin toss would have sufficed just as well, but I digress.)

Now, the real dilemma of the episode was over the question of whether or not it was right for Janeway to have the Doctor's memory erased the first time, and whether it would be justified to do so again. If the Doctor is just a hunk of technology then yes, it's justified. On the other hand, the show was constantly telling us he now counted as a life form and as such, did he not have rights like everyone else? This kind of dilemma is what makes Star Trek so good, because it isn't hard to see both sides of the issue (if you accept the axiom that the Doctor is, in fact a life form.) Also, Robert Picardo, who plays the doctor, turns in an outstanding performance in this episode and really brought it to life. I like that actor a lot in the way he portrays the character, and the episodes that focus on him tend to be some of the most enjoyable, for my money.

I do have one issue though, and I have to put it aside to fully enjoy this episode. Namely, that "living" machines get created entirely by accident all the time in Star Trek. It's almost as if it's inevitable that once technology reaches a certain point of complexity, life will just start popping up everywhere. A holographic EMH gets left activated long enough and suddenly he's alive... Wesley Crusher experiments with nanites that suddenly are alive and sentient. Some alien bit of programming makes the Enterprise-D's computer go all HAL and come to life. Heck, a Sherlock Holmes villain is just one badly worded command away from becoming conscious AND able to take over the ship. Let's not forget the Exocomps, which are also determined to be living machines. All by accident.

"But hang on there, arcticfox. What about Data? He's considered alive and you left him off the list!"

Well, yeah I did leave him off... Because at least Data allows for some wiggle room for suspension of disbelief due to the secret sauce that makes Data (and other androids of his type) unique in Star Trek tech: The Positronic Brain. (Yes, named after the robot brains in I, Robot) That's the key to letting Data be counted as "alive" without the technology running amok... Not that this approach worked so well. Pieces of technology come to life all the time in Star Trek and it's to the point now where, if I worked on a Federation Starship, I'd feel bad about junking a busted toaster because you never know...
And that's my gripe today. In a sense, these writers are suggesting that technology can turn us into gods. In Star Trek, a really smart high school kid can accidentally create an entire race of sentient nanites with enough intelligence to communicate after only a few hours.

It's true that living machines weren't new to Star Trek even when The Next Generation came out. Kirk once spontaneously caused a female android to come to life just using his own raw sex appeal. (Not kidding. Go watch "Requiem for Methuselah.") Then there's V'Ger… a NASA probe come to life after bumping into an alien race of living machines that gave it a bit of an upgrade in the first Star Trek movie. (That's the 1979 movie, not 2009 for you younger whippersnappers.) At least in those situations, like with Lt. Commander Data, the builder (Creator?) specifically set out to make a living machine, and in all cases there was something highly unusual about that creator that prevented things from going out of control in the story universe.

The effect of all this really cheapens the beauty and value of life, and what it is. Living things possess that spark of the divine that separates them from the inanimate. It isn't just a matter of complexity, there's more to it than that. Complexity isn't the reason a virus is alive while a star isn't. Otherwise we'd already have living computers now.

So yes, as much as I like the Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager, he is an example of this issue. I think it would have been much better if, in some episode early on, some element in the story is what "unlocked" his ability to achieve consciousness, so that he would be special. As it is, what they're basically saying is that if you leave any holographic character running long enough, eventually they'll ascend to consciousness. Yeah, drop that fun little realization into the next episode of Trek you watch where a holographic character gets killed for the amusement of a crewmember on the holodeck. (Lookin' at you, Captain Picard, AKA Dixon Hill.)

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Wed Mar 20, 2019 12:37 pm
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Oh wow, a new topic! You don't see those every month.

Interesting viewpoint. But isn't the issue you're describing just the natural "next step" for the Theory of Evolution in a science fiction context? Evolution was certainly part of the "writers' bible" for at least TNG-DS9-VOY-ENT and Discovery, if not TOS as well. In fact, one of the earliest TNG episodes to deal with this topic is actually called "Evolution".


Also, I agree about that episode being a highlight of VOY, and Picardo being great when the script allowed him to shine.

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Thu Mar 21, 2019 7:20 am
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Moses Rockafeller wrote:
Oh wow, a new topic! You don't see those every month.

Interesting viewpoint. But isn't the issue you're describing just the natural "next step" for the Theory of Evolution in a science fiction context? Evolution was certainly part of the "writers' bible" for at least TNG-DS9-VOY-ENT and Discovery, if not TOS as well. In fact, one of the earliest TNG episodes to deal with this topic is actually called "Evolution".


Also, I agree about that episode being a highlight of VOY, and Picardo being great when the script allowed him to shine.


I'm not so sure. If we're to examine it wholly within the context of the Star Trek universe, then all the celebration and hoopla about the genius of Dr. Soong quickly becomes hollow.


Dr. Soong: "Haha! My greatest triumph! A true artificial lifeform"
Wesley Crusher: (Yawn) "Big deal. I literally did the same thing but on a nanotech scale for a high school project... by accident."
Dr. Farallon: "Yeah it's not so hard. I made like, 3 of them too and didn't even mean to."
Enterprise-D's Computer: "Huh? Wazzat? Oh yeah I'm alive too... until we get to New Vertiform City... or whatever..."
Flint: "I was building living androids before y'all were even born. Soong a genius? Pft. More like 'poser.'"
Roger Korby (Android version): "Wait, do I count? I totally count!"
Holo Doctor: "Yes Soong's achievement does seem a bit overstated. Data couldn't even feel emotions off the assembly line... and an assembly line it was. There were like, what, 4 Soong type androids? All of them having emotion except Data? Tsk tsk tsk and only one of them could even pass for human."
Flint and Korby: "Yeah!"
Soong: "I hate you guys so much..."

I guess what I'm getting at is that the writers didn't seem to have that in mind. Dr. Soong was supposed to have been the Nikola Tesla or Elon Musk of the 24th Century but they overloaded us with so many living, sentient machines that it just quit being special... especially when this was Soong's life work while others did it purely by accident.

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Thu Mar 21, 2019 7:53 am
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arcticfox wrote:
Dr. Soong was supposed to have been the Nikola Tesla or Elon Musk of the 24th Century but they overloaded us with so many living, sentient machines that it just quit being special... especially when this was Soong's life work while others did it purely by accident.

I don't think that's an accurate comparison. Soong made one "crowning achievement" that almost didn't even get discovered, then he went into hiding until Lore killed him. He was a mad genius, sure, but we didn't see him cranking out inventions left and right.

If you want to get into accidents, Data was discovered by Starfleet by chance. Lore was stumbled onto completely by accident not once, but twice (first by the Ent-D then the Pakleds)! If he hadn't been discovered by accident, Lore would have been forgotten to history (although Data might have heard about him from Soong when he got the emotions chip).

And yeah, by the end of VOY I would say Data was no longer as rare of a thing, because of other discoveries and achievements. That doesn't mean Data isn't still special. A person/lifeform is special and unique. If you look at the universe view, sure, we're all just insignificant organisms who have more in common with other organisms than not, and when most of us die, we won't have made much of an impact on the rest of the organisms. That doesn't mean we're not special while we're alive.

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Fri Mar 22, 2019 6:33 am
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Fair enough, about Soong... But you have to admit they do make a HUGE deal out of his achievement, even when it's utterly ordinary by later standards. To be honest, so many people have managed to create sentient machines that it makes Soong look less like a mad genius and more like the proverbial squirrel who once managed to find a nut.

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Fri Mar 22, 2019 10:18 am
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