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- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 1:29pm (USA Central)
Heroes and Demons
@Elliott, Peremensoe, Robert, Skeptikal, William, and Yanks
Interesting debate, as usual, between some of the most able debaters in here. It would seem that I mostly tend to agree with Robert on this one. I’m not sure, though; my reading may be myopic.
For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion on this most interesting question of "sentience". For the record: Data and the EMH are of course some of my favourite characters of Trek, altough I consider Data to be a considerably more interesting and complex one; the EMH has many good episodes and is wonderfully entertaining ― Picardo does a great job ―, but doesn’t come close to Data otherwise.
I consider Data, but not the EMH, to be sentient.
This has to do with the physical aspect of what is an individual, and sentience. Data has a body. More importantly, Data has a brain. It’s not about how Data and the EMH behave and what they say, it’s a matter of how, or whether, they think.
Peremensoe wrote: ”This is a physiological difference between them, but not a philosophical one, as far as I can see.”
I cannot agree. I’m sure that someday we’ll see machines that can simulate intelligence ― general *artificial intelligence*, or strong AI. But I believe that if we are ever to also achieve true *artificial consciousness* ― what I gather we mean here by ”sentience” ― we need also to create an artificial brain. As Haikonen wrote a decade ago:
”The brain is definitely not a computer. Thinking is not an execution of programmed strings of commands. The brain is not a numerical calculator either. We do not think by numbers.”
This is the main difference between Data and the EMH, and why this physiological difference is so important. Data possesess an artificial brain ― artificial neural networks of sorts ―, the EMH does not.
Data’s positronic brain should thus allow him thought processes somehow similar to those of humans that are beyond the EMH’s capabilities. The EMH simply executes Haikonen’s ”programmed strings of commands”.
I don’t claim to be an expert on Soongs positronic brain (is anyone?), and I have no idea about the intricate differences and similarities between it and the human brain (again: does anyone?). But I believe that his artificial brain must somehow allow for some of the same, or similar, thought processes that cause *self-awareness* in humans. Data’s positronic brain is no mere CPU. In spite of his very slow learning curve in some aspects, Data consists of more than his programming.
This again is at the core of the debate. ”Sentience”, as in self-awareness, or *artificial consciousness*, must necessarily imply some sort of non-linear, cognititive processes. Simple *artificial intelligence* ― such as decision-making, adapting and improving, and even the simulation of human behaviour ― must not.
The EMH is a sophisticated program, especially regarding prioritizing and decision-making functions, and even possessing autoprogramming functions allowing him to alter his programming. As far as I remember (correct me if I’m wrong), he doesn’t posses the same self-monitoring and self-maintenance functions that Data ― and any sentient being ― does. Even those, however, might be programmed and simulated. The true matter is the awareness of self. One thing is to simulate autonomous thought; something quite different is actually possessing it. Does the fact that the EMH wonders what to call himself prove that he is sentient?
Data is essentially a child in his understanding of humanity. But he is, in all aspects, a sentient individual. He has a physical body, and a physical brain that processes his thoughts, and he lives with the awareness of being a unique being. Data cannot exist outside his body, or without his positronic brain. If there’s one thing that we learned from the film ”Nemesis”, it’s that it’s his brain, much superior to B-4’s, that makes him what he is. Thanks to his body, and his brain, Data is, in every aspect, an independent individual.
The EMH is not. He has no body, and no brain, but depends ― mainly, but not necessarily ― on the Voyager computer to process his program. But more fundamentally, he depends entirely on that program ― on strings of commands. Unlike Data, he consists of nothing more than the sum of his programming.
The EMH can be rewritten at will, in a manner that Data cannot. He can be relocated at will to any computer system with enough capacity to store and process his program. Data cannot ― when Data transfers his memories to B-4, the latter doesn’t become Data. He can be shaped and modelled and thrown about like a piece of clay. Data cannot. The EMH has, in fact, no true personality or existence.
Because he relies *entirely* on a string of commands, he is, in truth, nothing but that simple execution of commands. Even if his program compels him to mimic human behaviour with extreme precision, that precision merely depends on computational power and lines of programming, not thought process.
Of course, one could argue that the Voyager’s computer *is* the EMH’s brain, and that it is irrelevant that his memories, and his program, can be transferred to any other computer ― even as far as the Alpha Quadrant, as in ”Message in a Bottle” and ”Life Line”.
But that merely further annihilates his individuality. The EMH can, in theory, if the given hardware and power requirements are met, be duplicated at will at any given time, creating several others which might then develop in different ways. However ― unlike say, Will and Thomas Riker, or a copy of Data, or the clone of any true individual ―, these several other EMHs might even be merged again at a later time.
It is even perfectly possible to imagine that several EMHs could be merged, with perhaps the necessary adjustments to the program (deleting certain subroutines any of them might have added independently in the meanwhile, for example), but allowing for multiple memories for certain time periods to be retained. Such is the magic of software.
The EMH is thus not even a true individual, much less sentient. He’s software. Nothing more.
Furthermore, something else and rather important must also be mentioned. Unless our scope is the infinite, that is, God, or the Power Cosmic, to be sentient also means that you can lose that sentience. Humans, for a variety of reasons, can, all by themselves and to various degrees, become demented, or insane, or even vegetative. A computer program cannot.
I’m betting that Data, given his positronic brain, could, given enough time, devolve to something such as B-4 when his brain began to fail. Given enough time (as he clearly evolves much slower than humans, and his positronic brain would presumably last centuries or even millennia before suffering degradation), Data could actually risk losing his sanity, and perhaps his sentience, just like any human.
The EMH cannot. The various attempts in VOY to depict a somewhat deranged EMH, such as ”Darkling”, are all unconvincing, even if interesting or amusing: there should and would always be a set of primary directives and protocols that would override all other programming in cases of internal conflict. Call it the Three Laws, or what you will: such is the very nature of programming. ”Darkling”, and other such instances, is a fraud. It is not the reflex of sentience; it is, at best, the result of inept programming.
So is ”Latent Image”. But symptomatically, what do we see in that episode? Janeway conveniently rewrites the EMH, erasing part of his memory. This is consistent with what we see suggested several times, such as concerning his speech and musical subroutines in ”Virtuoso”. Again, symptomatically, what does Torres tell the EMH in ”Virtuoso”?
― TORRES: “Look, Doc, I don't know anything about this woman or why she doesn't appreciate you, and I may not be an expert on music, but I'm a pretty good engineer. I can expand your musical subroutines all you like. I can even reprogramme you to be a whistling teapot. But, if I do that, it won't be you anymore.”
This is at the core of the nature of the EMH. What is he? A computer program, the sum of lines of programming.
Compare again to Data. Our yellow-eyed android is also the product of incredibly advanced programming. He also is able to write subroutines to add to his nature and his experience; and he can delete those subroutines again. The important difference, however, is that only Soong and Lore can seriously manipulate his behaviour, and then only by triggering Soongs purpose-made devices: the homing device in ”Brothers”, and the emotion chip in ”Descent”. There’s a reason, after all, why Maddox would like to study Data further in ”Measure of a Man”. And this is the difference: Soong is Soong, and Data is Data. But any apt computer programmer could rewrite the EMH as he or she pleased.
(Of course, one could claim than any apt surgeon might be able to lobotomise any human, but that would be equivalent to saying that anyone with a baseball bat might alter the personality of an human. I trust you can see the difference.)
I believe that the EMH, because of this lack of a brain, is incapable of brain activity and complex thought, and thus artificial consciousness. The EMH is by design able to operate from any computer system that meets the minimum requirements, but the program can never be more than the sum of his string of commands. Sentience may be simulated ― it may even be perfectly simulated. But simulated sentience is still a simulation.
I thus believe that the EMH is nothing but an incredibly sophisticated piece of software that mimics sentience, and pretends to wish to grow, and pretends to... and pretends to.... He is, in a way, The Great Pretender. He has no real body, and he has no real mind. As his programming evolves, and the subroutines become ever more complex, the illusion seems increasingly real. But does it ever become more than a simulacrum of sentience?
All this is of course theory; in practical terms, I have no problem admitting that a sufficiently advanced program would be virtually indistinguishable, for most practical purposes, from actual sentience. And therefore, *for most practical purposes*, I would treat the impressive Voyager EMH as an individual. But as much as I am fond of the Doctor, I have a very hard time seeing him as anything but a piece of software, no matter how sophisticated.
So, as you can gather by now, I am not a fan of such thoughts on artificial consciousness that imply that it is all simply a matter of which computations the AI is capable of. A string of commands, however complex, is still nothing but a string of commands. So to conclude: even in a sci-fi context, I side with the ones who believe that artificial consciousness requires some sort of non-linear thought process and brain activity. It requires a physical body and brain of sorts, be it a biological humanoid, a positronic android, the Great Link, the ocean of Solaris, or whatever (I am prepared to discuss non-corporeal entities, but elsewhere).
Finally, I would say that the bio gel idea, as mentioned by Robert, could have been interesting in making the EMH somehow more unique. That could have the further implication that he could not be transferred to a computer without bio gel circuitry, thus further emphasizing some sort of uniqueness, and perhaps providing a plausible explanation for the proverbial ”spark” of consciousness ― which of course would then, as in Data’s case, have been present from the beginning. This would transform the EMH from a piece of software into... perhaps something more, that was interwoven with the ship itself somehow. It could have been interesting ― but then again, it would also have limited the writing for the EMH very severely. Could it have provided enough alternate possibilities to make it worthwhile? I don’t know; but I can understand why the writers chose otherwise
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 1:10pm (USA Central)
Trials and Tribble-ations
Gordon's observation is well taken, but it is hardly a "gaping plot hole." As Peremensoe says, it's a joke -- a setup and punchline that has nothing to do with the plot. It is, perhaps, a gaping flaw in series continuity that should've been evident at the time (i.e. before Enterprise revisited the issue). Notice the crew weren't surprised to learn that Darvin (and we never did learn his Klingon name) was a surgically-altered spy. At least, the fact that such spies existed was not surprising.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 12:59pm (USA Central)
Trials and Tribble-ations
Yeah, that's exactly what we Trekkers need, our own Hayden Christiansen shoehorned into in Jedi moment. We should probably redub all the lines about Eugenics to have taken place in the 2030s instead of 1900s. Oh and we could go Abrams and digitally graft on little Nokia logos onto the communicators, and hell, throw in a scene where we actually see Trobbles mating (in CGI of course)!
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 12:05pm (USA Central)
Heroes and Demons
Not sure what you're saying Robert.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 11:51am (USA Central)
Trials and Tribble-ations
"If Sisko wasn't in the original timeline then who dropped the tribble on Kirk?"
Heh. I'll call that a joke too.
Or, if fanwank we must: the tribble that Sisko drops takes the place of another (or the same) tribble that was originally dislodged onto Kirk's head without a person's presence in the bin. The trajectories of all the falling tribbles are necessarily created differently when Sisko is up there, but the appearance to those below works out to be the same. Sisko's toss is the final lucky piece of timeline conservation. ;)
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 11:43am (USA Central)
Yep. She mentions it in this interview, www.startrek.com/article/grace-lee-whitney-on-trek-life-part-i
For more, see her book The Longest Trek.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 11:38am (USA Central)
Trials and Tribble-ations
"The original version is clearly a timeline in which Darvin never returned. "
I disagree. If Sisko wasn't in the original timeline then who dropped the tribble on Kirk?
I don't know that I would have monkeyed with the episode, but it might have been funny to have it as an alternate version on the TOS blu ray discs.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 11:25am (USA Central)
Trials and Tribble-ations
The thing about Klingon appearance was a JOKE.
The sensible way to understand Klingons is that they have *always* had the ridges and so forth. If the scene was serious, Bashir and the others simply wouldn't have noticed anything different about the Klingons in the bar. But it was a winking, fourth-wall-crossing joke, from the writers to the audience.
It's the later-made Enterprise episodes that fail, catastrophically, by not getting the joke.
navamske: "When they remastered "The Trouble with Tribbles," they should have put some of the DS9 characters in the background"
What for? We *have* the version with DS9 characters right here. It's even on the remastered TOS DVD! The original version is clearly a timeline in which Darvin never returned.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 10:59am (USA Central)
Trials and Tribble-ations
I love this episode as much as most people above but for me there's still a gaping plot hole with the Klingons in the bar - namely why don't Bashir and the others recognise them for what they are? Sure, they don't look anything like the Klingons that they've known all their lives but surely there are pictorial records from Kirk's time, showing what they were like back then?
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 9:55am (USA Central)
Watched this yesterday on the 'horror channel' of all things here in the UK. I quite enjoyed it. Not really sure of the sexist overtones but considering when it was made ill let that pass.
Greatest moment? Early on when they get back to the ship and Bones is talking to a seated Kirk. Note how Kirk is doing his nails! Subtle but brilliant.
Shatner i thought played the part really well, he stammers and 'ers..' his way through his rants, the crews faces as he/she gets more desperate towards the end are excellent.
Id give it 4 stars! Throughly enjoyed it.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 9:17am (USA Central)
Heroes and Demons
@Yanks - Well Data is more of a hardware program and Doc is more software. That said, you can probably make Mario entirely on a circuit board or a software exe and have it play exactly the same.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 9:03am (USA Central)
Heroes and Demons
"So Doc's mind runs on the ship computer, while Data's runs on his personal computer in his head. This is a physiological difference between them, but not a philosophical one, as far as I can see. The *location* of a being's mind says nothing about its capacity for thought and experience."
I think it's a little more than that. Doc can be rewritten at a whim. Data can not. When "Data" was dowloaded into B4, he reverted back to essentially a child. Doc on the other hand just pops himself into whatever computer or 29th century mobile emitter he can find.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 8:25am (USA Central)
@Norvo - Why? Kes was jumping backwards through her own life. Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap jumps around during his own. Time travel in Trek near Earth never accidentally beams the crew to before Earth existed. When Sisko was bouncing around in time he was tied to Jake. I'm not telling you the science makes perfect sense, but as far as time travel is established in Trek the idea that this thing could be tied to Voyager isn't that weird.
The phenomenon happened to Voyager, why couldn't it have been tied to Voyager's existence? Sure you might have been able to walk into the cargo bay and find a bunch of Utopia Planetia technicians building the thing (and that might have been pretty funny) but the idea isn't that out there. I like this episode, Beltran looked like he was having a lot of fun (nice to see for a change in the later seasons) and I loved all the little continuity tie ins from past episodes. This was a Voyager episode for Voyager fans. Not a classic 4 star, but I'll give it 3.5. It was fun.
- Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 2:23am (USA Central)
What I like about these reviews is that they often offer a completely different point of view. I actually liked the episode, despite its inherent and unapologetic goofiness. However, now I can no longer deny that the science behind it makes no sense. If the ship is fractured into different timeperiods, shouldn't it also include the past well before Voyager was even built? You turn a corner, shift zones and find yourself floating in the vacuum of space because there wasn't a ship back then. But hey, at least they made it home.
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 10:36pm (USA Central)
Heroes and Demons
Well Data's positronic net was supposedly so hard to replicate that nobody other than Soong was successful.
That being said, the Enterprise's computer accidentally made a sentient hologram in Moriarty.... so that fact that life could spring out of an EMH is far from difficult to imagine given Voyager is a more advanced ship and the pre-VOY canon supports such an accident anyway.
I've always liked the EMH as it connected to Data because of a few lines mentioned here and there ("The Offspring" and "Eye of the Beholder") about how hard it was for Data to transition into sentience. I actually feel like they paid a lot of that story off in Voyager. In a lot of ways it's an ongoing story that began with "Measure of a Man" and ran all the way to "Author, Author".
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 10:23pm (USA Central)
Heroes and Demons
Yanks: "[The Doctor] is a computer program, while Data has the positronic brain. I think I see a difference there."
So Doc's mind runs on the ship computer, while Data's runs on his personal computer in his head. This is a physiological difference between them, but not a philosophical one, as far as I can see. The *location* of a being's mind says nothing about its capacity for thought and experience.
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 10:05pm (USA Central)
@Peremensoe, I was not aware of that -- I recall hearing that Grace Lee Whitney found the environment very difficult, but I didn't know more than that. That's really awful (and makes that "Enemy Within" moment harder to stomach, somehow).
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 9:38pm (USA Central)
William B and Robert, are you aware that Grace Lee Whitney said she was sexually assaulted by a Desilu producer during that time period?
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 9:24pm (USA Central)
Return to Grace
"The writers don't seem to know what to do with Dukat. At times he has wanted to: atone, seek revenge, receive forgiveness, receive vindication, get revenge.. and then at the end he becomes a fire monster who wants nothing more than to kill Sisko."
Completely disagree... well, sort of, that's just the thing... Dukat himself doesn't know who is, Dukat's existensial crisis and continually evolving identity is the point. Most people in life ARE all over the place because most people are not self-actualized, and Dukat's character makes perfect sense in this context, and it's part of what makes him one of the most compelling characters. His "fire monster" act near the end... well, I can see why some people can't jive with it, but for however over the top it is I still see it as a development that works in the larger context. Insanity can indeed be the eventual outcome of an existential crisis that only builds and where no self-actualization or realization is ever reached.
Oh, and 4 star episode for me.
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 9:20pm (USA Central)
This is a reasonable stepping stone episode. It's more about setting up questions for the last stretch of shows, but it does so well enough. The nicest moments involve Sisko and his plans to get married, asking Jake to be his best man, etc.
The Damar and Weyoun bickering is nicely reintroduced, as is the disease in the Great Link.
When Dukat showed up, I couldn't help but think, "I forgot you're still around". It's always nice to see Alaimo back, but I still can't shake the feeling that his character is now so far removed from the meat of the series.
The Ezri/Worf stuff is fine. Jammer's bang-on about how it really is a lot of break up-and-reconnecting cliches. I wished we'd have gotten something a bit more... weighty? It's nice to see Ezri call out Worf for never being around, but it doesn't seem like it's going much farther than that.
Like I said, it's a reasonable show with some good character moments. Hard to judge on its own, but it's a fairly well done hour. 3 stars, I guess.
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 8:24pm (USA Central)
@Robert Cheers for that! I have read it and will probablybe thinking about this for a long time now and it seems a lot of other people will too. There's a passage on a reddit page linked there that I love:
PICARD: "I don't understand you! Return me to my ship!"
DARMOK: "Not sure if serious."
PICARD: "Wait. Are you saying that this is a complex bonding ritual in which we strand ourselves on a planet with a partially invisible monster?"
DARMOK: "Shut up and take my money!"
PICARD: "We shall be fast friends until the end of the episode."
DARMOK: "HA! HA! I'm using Forbes' insoluble dry plates!"
at the very least it makes you think and for that reason alone it's a valuable episode. i will be checking it out very soon.
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 8:16pm (USA Central)
Very worthwhile for the O'Brien and Bashir stuff, but I just never bought the motivations of the T'Lani and the Kellerens and the last act felt rushed and kind of silly. Nonetheless, the character stuff is really good, and that last little revelation about the coffee... pretty amusing.
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 5:29pm (USA Central)
Not a bad episode, except for Dawson's incredibly annoying directing. Good directing is invisible; Dawson's is noticeable every single second, which is, at best, distracting and, at worst, STOP WITH THE FRICKIN' FOCUS PULLS!!!
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 4:10pm (USA Central)
"The difference between that and the fabled continuity is that I don't think there's any rule that says that continuity is automatically better than not-continuity."
I will MOSTLY agree with this. There is no rule. That being said, the REASON most shows didn't have any continuity (the way Friends does but say Lucy doesn't) is because networks didn't like continuity.
If a writer decided their show would be better without continuity, that'd be an artistic choice. The choice to scrape away continuity to a point where episodes can function in any order is rarely an artistic one and almost always a business one. That said, continuity != serial. I LIKE that DS9 had serial aspects, but I do enjoy many shows that focus on "episode of the week". But the characters often do grow and continuity is present.
So when I compare lack of continuity to sexism I don't mean to equate them at all, but they are both more forgivable in the past because they are both relics of an older era of television. It's why I used the example of Lucy and Desi sleeping in the same bed because that level of conservativeness (ridiculous levels) is also a relic.
"I do think Voyager wasn't using all the tools that it "had available" in terms of the benefits of continuity, though, of course, no series use *all* the tools that are available, including all the Treks."
This is really what I meant. Not that Voyager doesn't have continuity but that the fear of change and the need to return to the status quo (which was a very real thing in most networks) hampered Voyager at a time that it should have felt bolder to make some real changes. It was missing a tool it should have had in it's shed and as such is a bigger disappointment than TNG, even if many of the episodes are of comparable quality.
"But then, is there a difference between NBC making demands in the 1960's and UPN making demands in the 90's/2000's? "
Probably not. Maybe it is unrealistic to expect that just because DS9 was trailblazing that VOY would follow it... but UPN making those demands in the later 90s was probably pretty anachronistic.
I do appreciate your last paragraph. I think I disagree pretty strongly with the possibility that abandoning continuity could ever be desirable, but perhaps there will eventually be a backlash to heavy serialization. Although maybe the extreme popularity of CSI/NCIS type shows are already that. They are VERY episodic (even if they do have continuity).
- Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 3:41pm (USA Central)
The House of Quark
Q'on'os and the Klingon Empire is on the other side of the vast Federation from Bajor and Cardassia...it has to be at least a trip of several weeks. They kept Quark unconscious for that entire trip?!?
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