tng_com-001Over at the Daystrom Institute subreddit a number of redditors discuss artificial intelligence in the 24th century Star Trek franchise and the hows and whys over the differences in sapience, sentience, self-awareness, and capability in respective characters.

One of the main characters of Star Trek: The Next Generation was the android Lt Cmdr Data.  Another regular character was the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager.  A recurring character from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is Vic Fontaine, a lounge singer based on Frank Sinatra and others.  Moriarty is a villain that appeared twice on The Next Generation, serving as a nemesis for Data in his Sherlock Holmes persona.  Data is an android, an artificial man.  The other three are holograms, simulated people projected from the setting.

The fascinating bit is the contradiction in how close each being simulates living people.  In general the more regular a character, or long-lasting the more sentient a character appears to be intended.  That is to say, the more episodes your character appears in the more rights, freedom and dignity of a living being will be afforded.  Data was treated as a full person, an actual lifeform, with all the rights of an individual.  Canonically it was deemed so by a legal body.  The Doctor was essentially an appliance, and while the legal body within the canon referred to him as little more than property, the other characters treated him as an equal, and he would constantly assert that he deserved rights as a person, no matter how awkward it seemed.   Your artificial medical officer serves a particular purpose and it’s not appropriate to treat the unique medical robot as independent.    Interestingly the character’s abilities and limitations were crafted to suit the persona demanded of the respective actor.

The contradiction is that Data was praised as a unique masterpiece and the Doctor an off-the-factory-line appliance.  Data exerted effort to be human, as was his aspiration/ambition.  The Doctor embraced humanity intuitively/reflexively.

Moriarty appeared twice.  He deliberately declared that he was sentient.  As a result of his intention towards independence he was trapped in an inception box: the protagonists sealed him in artificial reality to deceive him into believing he was living a meaningful life.

Moriarty’s fate is ultimately the most disturbing.

Vic is aware of his nature and his purpose and lives/functions only to serve that, his nature and his purpose.

Vic, Moriarty, and the Doctor are all holograms.  Perhaps it’s just easier to create a more fully realized emotional being if their appliances, functions of hardware on the starship or space station.  The technology is more powerful if it is built in to a larger machine.  As an individual an android only has so much room for any function in his head.


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