The Quality of Life
Exobots are great for helping out around the workplace: they can float, they make their own tools, they can be programmed for a variety of tasks. They also learn. In fact, they’re learning so much that they might actually be alive. Data sizes up the measure of a ‘bot when we put The Quality of Life into the Mission Log.
Tags: artificial intelligence, Bat'leth, Beard, beards, Chief Kelso, Court Martial, Doctor Farallon, Ellen Bry, Exobot, exobots, experiment, J. Downing, Jonathan Frakes, machine rights, manufactured intelligence, mining, Naren Shankar, Plasma cascade failure, robots, scientific method, space station, Takenta, technology, The Measure of a Man, The Next Generation, The Next Generation Season 6, The Quality of Life, TNG, Tyran particle fountain, Tyrus VII-A
Thank you for putting an actual word to what was troubling me about Dr. Farallon in this episode. She came across as “too earnest” —-yes, that’s it! You have solved a decades long issue that has troubled me about this episode by providing that description. I have been troubled off and on about Dr. Farallon whenever I watched this episdoe. Now this is not about the acting skills of Ellen Bry, but every time the character she portrayed spoke, I winced. She would be one of the coworkers you saw coming and then suddenly you needed to take a phone call or head into a meeting. “Dr. Farallon, I know you’re really into this new mining technology but sometimes I just want to look at YouTube videos, okay.”
On another note, I appreciate the outstanding work you do and discovering this podcast has breathed new life into my love for the Star Trek Franchise. Keep up the great work!
Welcome aboard, Myra – and thanks!
I think we’re forgetting the overarching technophobic/don’t-mess-with-nature message that cropped up so often in MST3K: “He tampered in God’s domain.” (Probably by redirecting it to a different name server.)
With regard to Farallon’s fixation on the conclusion she wants to be able to reach without having to do all the pesky leg work in backing that up with cold hard numbers, it seems like there’s a question this episode never bothers to ask: does she have any credibility as a scientist or engineer once this has been revealed about her? Indeed, by leaving her where she is, Exocomps in hand, it’s almost as if the episode is saying that’s not important. But then let’s rewind to the scientist who destroyed the Crystalline Entity: she also arrived at her conclusion (the thing’s gotta die!) without paying attention to any of the steps along the way (hey, it’s alive and we can communicate with it!). What separates those two characters? One heinously destructive act, and probably some PTSD. Not saying that Farallon can’t see the error of her ways or can’t be redeemed, but there seems to be a credibility gap that’s hard to overcome now. And yet we not only overcome it, but we hand her robo-gerbils back to her – the ones she planned to lobotomize – at the end of the show. We gotta scoot, places to be next week! Hey, please remember not to lobotomize your robo-gerbils, yeah?
Speaking of which: “Data endangers Picard to save machine!” I think Exocomps wrote this week’s log line. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9c26bf2de5407de82e2fd508513f2edf42141caed8ea549040770f4e5f7f53e5.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8ed2f13e5cc443a03cce31bafb421dc47ff2f75a9bd767f9fd1fe3650c0d604e.jpg
I have to agree with you and John and Ken regarding the Exocomps being sent back to toil under the supervision of the all-too-earnest Dr. Farallon without some sort of conversation about their ongoing treatment. The casual nature of the ending was in sharp contrast with Data risking court martial and the death of his colleagues. I mean La Forge and Picard almost lost their lives over this. Now that they’re back aboard everyone’s like, Meh – they’ll be okay. Ensign take us out, warp 6!
Ro got like 8 people killed and she’s fine. For Picard and La Forge, Data would’ve got community service at worst… for saving the Oxogoodcomps, probably a commendation. Plus, remember they blew the remote control right out of Dr. Farrahfowler’s hands. I think they can defend themselves ok.
Good thing the exobots did not turn out Terminator style.
We’ll be rolling that out in the next OS upgrade… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9d31b85d2298d85a7cb3ec386ec0addba3f052ba1027c86ba2a286ddf2cb9640.jpg
The Exocomps are just the worst sentient robots on a series rife with sentient robots. Swiss Army bots who are secretly trying to unionize mess up and nearly get folks killed. Yay! Kumbaya!
Shards of duranium, twisted, burned and melted plastics and many other varieties of detritus: That’s what those “rocks” are, in case you were wondering.
I find Naren has difficulty with characterization of the main characters in his scripts. He does improve, somewhat, later on in things like Farscape, but the characters never quite act like themselves in his stuff. They are just consistently a little bit off, in my estimation.
Still it’s nice to have a bit of science fiction in an episode after the last little while.
Poker could be a lot more risque and funny if they changed Crusher to say…
“If I win all the men will go clean shaven. If I lose I’ll go clean shaven”
In this episode Data discovers life again…
“Hey Crusher what is the definition of life?”
“Data, you know this. We’ve talked about it before. You asked this the last time you discovered life… What do you think is alive this time?”
Also, this scientist seems kinda dumb… “Oh no my mining stuff won’t work right” “Uhhhh you apparently created something that the greatest minds have struggled to do and one person just barely succeeded with data, but you did it accidentally….”
And somewhere on the Enterprise, someone’s spinning the Gary Numan classic “Are Geordi’s Friends Electric?” on repeat play.
I kept wanting to jump in the discussion this week and mention the British show “Humans” which just started it’s second season on AMC a couple weeks ago. They’re doing a great job of raising all kinds of questions about manufactured intelligence and what rights does it have. That may have been the jumping off point for the British lady Ken was talking about. What happens when a newly sentient being wakes up full sized, stronger than a human and has absolutely no experience with feelings and no real moral compass? Something to keep in mind when one of the Exobots grabs a crayon, writes “UNION” on a hunk of cardboard and stands on a table in the mining station.
When I saw this episode first run, I yawned.
Didn’t they already do a story about nanobots becoming sentient?
Was that idea really worth rehashing, only making them much bigger this time?
Y’know, Kirk’s crew had a much easier time of it. If a machine, robot or hologram threatened the peace of the Federation, they could just destroy it with a clear conscience.
In the 24th century, things are becoming sentient every week, so that would be murder.
“Home Soil”. Crystals or something. “Evolution” Wesley’s nanites. Yup.
It’s like they’re all trying to redo Devil in the Dark. I won’t argue with the sentiment, and they’re all decent episodes, but none as good as the original.
Spock: “Captain, I believe this small robotic repair units may actually be be sentient and alive.”
Kirk: “Really, Spock? That’s fascinating. Hey, buddies, I’d like to have a bit of a chat with you.”
Exocomps: “Aaaaaaaaaughhhh!” *Boom*
Data: “They’re alive!!!!”
Kirk: “They need to die!!!!”
Guinan: “Don’t let them merge with organics!!!!”
Worf: “I suggest shooting them”
Riker and Geordie: “Can I mate with them?”
Picard: “Would they like to have a conversation over tea?”
Crusher: “What do you think?”
Troi: “I can’t feel them”
McCoy: *sigh* “The trash compactors are on the fritz again…”
This is another rather blah episode. One of our podcasting hosts (sorry, can’t recall which one) makes the observation that the conclusion is rather “talky”. I think that characterization can be fairly extended to the episode as a whole. You barely need to look at the television screen in order to understand what’s going on. (“The exocomps are doing this. Now the exocomps are doing that. Yada, yada, yada.) I’d be okay with this if the material were interesting, but the script is a hopeless muddle of badly-articulated concepts including the definition of life, sentience, and self-preservation. The more I think about this episode, the less I like it.
Intelligent life that has the ability to materialize any tool it needs, but never get the brilliant idea to create a voice synthesizer and say “No Disassemble! Johnny Five is alive!”
I’d be hard pressed to say it’s not alive after it told a joke as it’s first vocal communication.
They probably would have used contractions and Data would be forced to kill them himself.
I hadn’t seen this episode in a long time and didn’t remember what was going to happen, so in scene 2, right after the credits, I was just waiting for the Exograb to snatch Data’s still beating heart from his chest. Data! Quit standing in front of dangerous red-herrings!
Ken has pulled me out of lurker mode.
“How should it take more than 22 minutes to get a shuttle over to the station?”
…. because they don’t have one ready to go. Unless the crew keep a shuttle on Ready Reserve (and they should… don’t get me started on that), then it probably takes at least 30 minutes to get one powered up, inspected, and approved for flight. Oh sure, you might say that one could just be pulled off the shelf and switched on, but I wouldn’t want to be on the one that hasn’t been refueled yet…
I would think the habit would be to have at least one shuttle craft on standby at all times
Data doesn’t need air… they could just shoot him out a torpedo tube. He’d be there in seconds. Or pull the Enterprise a little closer and he could just hop over.
While I like this episode overall, something about Dr. Farallon’s voice always bugged me. I was half expecting to hear in the trivia segment that she was dubbed, but I guess not.
I totally enjoyed this episode but I think, for the purpose of asking a question that represents a very big mystery today, we project that same level of mystery & ignorance into a fictional future. Given that Star Trek presents a universe where people can be scanned at “quantum resolution,” and medical science has advanced fantastically, and (hello!) Dr. Soong has already constructed a living positronic android, it seems very artificial to depict our understanding of living systems and of consciousness itself as being pretty much the same for the crew of the Enterprise as it is for us today, despite all the other things they can do and understand. I think it’s fair to say that there would be a much more advanced understanding of how consciousness emerges from neural or information processing systems, and how to measure it, than we see depicted in the episode, given everything else they can do. By then it may even be possible to measure degrees of consciousness and even seemingly ethereal things like the capacity for suffering. That wouldn’t necessarily mean that there wouldn’t be equally vexing moral concerns in this episode’s story, but you’d have to really go way out on hypothetical limbs about things we just don’t understand yet.
The Quality of Life
DATA: Doctor, what is the definition of life?
CRUSHER:..I think I’m saying that we struggle all our lives to
answer it, but it’s the struggle that’s important. That’s what helps us to define our place in the universe.
Measure of a Man:
PICARD: What about self awareness. What does that mean? Why am I self aware?
MADDOX: Because you are conscious of your existence and actions. You are aware of yourself and your own ego.
PICARD: Commander Data, what are you doing now?
DATA: I am taking part in a legal hearing to determine my rights and Status. Am I a person or property?
PICARD: And what’s at stake?
DATA: My right to choose. Perhaps my very life.
PICARD: My rights. My status. My right to choose. My life. It seems reasonably self aware to me. Commander? I’m waiting.