|Posted on December 30, 2009 at 7:22 AM|
Part 3 of 8 in a series on androids and robots.
Lieutenant Commander Data is on trial, but not for anything he did wrong. A gung-ho senior officer, Commander Bruce Maddox, wants to transfer Data to Starbase 173, where he can dismantle the android, see how he ticks, and eventually make a whole army of Datas under Starfleet’s command. He consistently refers to Data as “it” and scarcely speaks to him during the initial briefing. Data is intrigued by the prospect, until he realizes this experiment would essentially mean his “death.”
Captain Jean-Luc Picard is equally disturbed. Though he welcomes JAG Officer Phillippa Louvois on board, he chafes when he learns she is to adjudicate the case, under Starfleet’s orders. Not only that, but William Riker is duty-bound to act as prosecutor, against his personal wishes and beliefs. Judge Louvois holds an on-board hearing to decide one thing: is Data a sentient man or an unthinking machine? This is the whole point of the episode “Measure of a Man.”
Data’s back story begins in “Datalore” on Omicron Theta, which used to be a major farming planet. There Dr. Noonien Soong, having been banned from Earth, continued his pursuit of making androids with positronic brains. And he has succeeded with Data.
Later, the Enterprise crew discovered another Data on Omicron Theta, completely dissembled, deep inside the mountain which used to be Dr. Soong’s lab. Because Data was curious about his “brother,” the engineering crew assembled the parts and produced his exact double. This one calls himself Lore, but he speaks with contractions and colloquialisms which Data never quite got the hang of. And he relishes mocking his maker by calling him Often Wrong Soong.
I’ve said before how I admire an actor who can play an android without letting his or her own emotions show much. This is more than a little true of Brent Spiner. He not only portrayed Data with unfailing dispassion, but he actually made the robotic character interesting. The Next Generation simply would not be the same without him. And the apparent ease by which Spiner moves from Data to Lore and back is to be highly commended.
Not only so, but when “Brothers” came along, Spiner played three roles: both androids, plus the good Dr. Soong himself. Now an elderly man, Soong sent out a signal to lure Data back to him, so he could implant his newly developed emotion chip into the android’s mouth. He assumed Lore was still in pieces back on Omicron Theta, so what a surprise when Lore showed up as well! Often Wrong was wrong once again. Of course, Lore tricked his “father” into giving him the chip instead of Data, and the “family” quarrel escalated.
All of this background will help us understand what happens in “Measure of a Man,” when Judge Louvois conducts her first court case to determine Data’s true worth. The prosecution, in the person of Will Riker, begins. By pulling off Data’s hand and forearm, and flipping his shutoff switch, he proves Data truly is a machine in the most literal sense.
“Pinocchio is broken,” says Riker in his striking conclusion. “Its strings have been cut.”
In the second session, Captain Picard wrings his hands uncertainly as he begins his defense. “Commander Riker has dramatically demonstrated to this court that Lieutenant Commander Data is a machine. Do we deny that? No. It is not relevant; we too are machines, just machines of a different type.”
That’s one way to look at it, I suppose, though I sense it cheapens the full wonder of our divine design. Nevertheless, Picard continues.
“Commander Riker has also reminded us that Lieutenant Commander Data was created by a human. Do we deny that? No. Again, it is not relevant. Children are created from the building blocks of their parents’ DNA.”
Plus a little miraculous endowing of soul and spirit, talents and abilities, which cannot be found in the DNA structure.
“Is Data a man?” The captain calls Data to the stand and presents three objects the android had packed to resign from Starfleet, trying to escape Maddox’s mad plan. A showcase of medals Data earned in Starfleet. A thick volume of poetry. And most of all, a small crystal base which could generate a holographic image of the late security chief, Tasha Yar. She lost her life to a tar monster toward the end of the previous season.
Picard demonstrates that all of these items show a sense of emotion in Data. Otherwise, they would mean nothing to him, and therefore he would not keep them on hand. Then the captain calls Commander Maddox to testify and reviews the humanistic definition of sentience. The measure is threefold: intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. “What makes me sentient, and not Data?” demands Picard. Ultimately, Maddox cannot answer.
My problem with this argument is, it can also apply to animals—which is probably the producers’ intent, believing as they do in evolution. It’s true many beasts are intelligent, such as pigs or monkeys or even, to some degree, insects. Does this mean they are on equal par with us humans?
Animals are self-aware in the sense they know what they are and what they want, and they know they are subservient to humans. One look at the dog’s guilty eyes when she does something bad proves it. They also have instincts that tell them what to do and when to do it, such as in mating rituals, or when and where to migrate. And all animals are certainly conscious.
Does this make them sentient? On a baser level, perhaps, but full sentience belongs to humans only, endowed by God. Does this put them on an equal footing with us? Hardly! Only man received God’s breath and became a living soul (Genesis 1:27; 2:7 KJV).
Judge Louvois misses this point too, yet she still makes the right decision. “Does Data have a soul? I don’t know that he has.” She scoffs. “I don’t know that I have. But I’ve got to give him the freedom to explore it himself. It is the ruling of this court that Lieutenant Commander Data has the freedom to choose.”
So if this hearing were held with respect for God’s Universe, would it be right for Maddox to tear Data apart and make an army of androids of him? No, rallying an android army would never be right. Maddox’s entire plan has the feel of building his own ego through this endeavor, just because he can do it.
Can an android be considered a man? The answer relies on individual human perception, based on appearance alone.
However, as I see it, Data was not born from a woman, so Picard’s comparison of him with a natural child lacks merit. His “father” Soong consciously built him with gears, access panels, duotronic circuits, and so forth. No such conscious act is present for fathers of human children. It happens automatically, their bodies knit together by God (Psalm 139:13). Data was never an infant, a toddler, a child, or a teenager. These are as much part of being human as God-created sentience.
Most of all, everything a machine is, thinks, and does must be programmed. As I said last week, the more complex the action, the more complex is the program, yet still he would be inferior to man. Since Data can process information at greater speeds—learn, if you will—what would it be like to sit in a class with him? He would make straight A’s and outshine even the most brilliant student. Wouldn’t this feel like a cheat? After all, he simply did what machines do best: process input faster. All Soong or anyone else would really have to do is input the same knowledge into his head by rote.
Frankly, I like Data. Brent Spiner made him unforgettable. Putting an android in the Enterprise-D crew was a stroke of genius, for his quest to understand human nature brings up some great points. But though we can enjoy watching him in the fantasy world of The Next Generation, in the real world it’s just one more notion that would never fly.
Have a blessed 2010, everyone!