Rant of the Week

"It sits there looking at me, and I don't know what it is."  Captain Philippa Louvois, the judge appointed by Starfleet to hold a hearing to determine if Data has the right to choose... anything.


I tried to watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation".  I tried.  After a few episodes, I found it revolting and stopped.

What was so revolting?  Data.  Here's the problem-- Data is such an overwhelmingly preposterous character, it over-shadowed every other virtue the show possessed-- which weren't that many anyway.

I don't understand why anyone accepts the character of Data, or the character of David in "Artificial Intelligence", or "I, Robot", or any number of robotic characters who aspire to have human feelings.  "Terminator" and the original "Star Trek", and the original "Lost in Space" TV series got it right*:  robots, even with artificial intelligence, can never aspire to being human because they can't have feelings.  It's not possible.  It's not theoretically possible.  It's not hypothetically possible.  It is a simple physical impossibility.  It's not even a good fantasy for which you could extrapolate an interesting plot, for those willing to suspend their disbelief.

The only reason a robot would ever even behave like a human is because of the robot's programming, which is always performed by humans.  Even if so-called "Artificial Intelligence" is used to program the robot, the ultimate source of all the code can never not be human.  The robot that "aspires" to be human is really the programmer who wraps up a little gift for himself in a lovely little decorative box and then opens it himself:  for me?  I can't believe it!

There is only one small sliver of a possibility here-- what if portions of the computer's brain were organic?  I grant a sliver-- a very, very tiny one -- of possibility.  I still don't think it is possible for organic material to function in a robotic wrapper in any way not defined by the human designers.  If they ever succeeded, I think we would regard it more like a hamster with hard drives than a sentient being.  But there is a tiny, tiny sliver of possibility that a rich, massive data base (because that's all the computer-robot's instructions are anyway) might acquire an element of unpredictability if certain algorithms' could be linked to an organic material in some way......  nah.

A key thing here is this: since Data is not human, he could never, ever aspire to be human.   Why would he?  Any expression he would make of such ambition could never be anything but the output of an algorithm placed in his memory by a human programmer.  That's all it can ever be: a programmer telling his mechanical device to declare that it wants to be the programmer. Like a child planning a tea party with her dolls.

So Data could no more aspire to be human, or feel like he's missing something, than a remote control for your PVR.  So whenever he expresses such sentiments to Picard or whoever, he is simply parroting nonsense placed in his "memory" by his programmer, and the fact that the other characters on SNG appear to take him seriously makes the "drama" only slightly less ridiculous than watching the Three Stooges play doctors.

*  I know -- the robot on "Lost in Space" would occasionally express emotions, and seemed awfully protective of the family Robinson, but it was clearly satirical, funny precisely because of the assumption that the robot, of course, could not have any feelings, as when it was embarrassed by "feelings" of joy when reunited with Will after a long absence.

All Contents Copyright Bill Van Dyk  2010 All Rights Reserved