Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Quality of Life"


Air date: 11/16/1992
Written by Naren Shankar
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise observes an experimental mining operation overseen by the ambitious Dr. Farallon (Ellen Bry) to decide whether her technological methods can be deployed in more widespread use in the Federation. Farallon has in her employ some advanced robotic tools she created, called "exocomps." When one of them inexplicably malfunctions, Data takes it back to the Enterprise for further diagnostic. He slowly comes to the conclusion that the exocomps may be alive.

Just what exactly is "alive"? Data has a conversation with Crusher that asks this very question, and the discussion ends probably the only way it can — inconclusively. As the episode notes, if you boil down the criteria of what living things generally do — exist, consume, attempt to survive, multiply — you could make the case that fire is "alive." But perhaps there must be something beyond that — a spark that transcends the qualifying definitions. I think ultimately what this episode is talking about is not simply life, but intelligence. The exocomps are learning machines rather than simple tools. But does being a somewhat more advanced robotic intelligence make them alive?

I'm of two minds on "The Quality of Life." On the one hand, it is in principle a pure example of the "seek out new life" mantra of the Star Trek ethos, and it is surely an episode whose underlying issues are fodder for much discussion and debate about the nature of life (artificial or otherwise) and our responsibilities to it.

On the other hand, by taking the argument as far as it does, the story threatens to collapse under its own moral conviction. A crisis arises, involving Picard and Geordi being trapped near deadly radiation, and the only way to save them is to send in the exocomps to make the necessary repairs, which will unfortunately result in their destruction. Data becomes the exocomps' advocate and locks out the transporter controls, barring the solution because he believes the rights of these possible life forms are not being considered. In effect, Data is willing to sacrifice the life of the captain and chief engineer on the hunch that these machines might comprise a rudimentary intelligence that may or may not rise to the level of sentience. That to me is taking things a shade too far into oh-come-on territory. (From a chain of command standpoint, Data's actions are probably worthy of a court-martial.)

The unintentional point the story almost seems to make is that Data is looking at this issue from such a coldly detached logical point of view (albeit from a uniquely personal perspective) that he doesn't even consider that the value of life is not simply about whether it exists, but what humans assign to it emotionally, in the form of relationships, attachments, and feelings. To put it another way: If you accidentally kill a deer with your car, you're not going to feel nearly as bad as if you kill a person, even one whom you don't know. Why? Because certain life is simply more important because of the value we assign to it. Now, where do you draw the line? Good question. But Data and "The Quality of Life" are not interested in drawing lines or designating the order of value. They want to treat all life equally, which means the exocomps have every right to live as Picard and Geordi, even if they may only be marginally sentient. For some reason, that to me seems slightly ridiculous. Maybe I'm just prejudiced against little robotic tools when instead I should be leading the charge in freeing Siri from her prison of iPhone servitude.

I also felt that Dr. Farallon was a little too obviously written as the story's (mild) villain, who at first comes across as annoying and obstinate, but learns the story's lesson by the end. (Ah, TNG's spirit of mutually arrived understanding.) Ultimately, a compromise solution is reached. That solution allows the story to walk away without compromising its ethics, while also saving Picard and Geordi. It's an interesting resolution to an interesting dilemma, but it doesn't force anyone to address the question of the difference between the value of life and the quality of it. That "The Quality of Life" is good at inspiring these sort of questions is to its credit, but consider me on the fence as to its effectiveness as drama.

Previous episode: A Fistful of Datas
Next episode: Chain of Command, Part I

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54 comments on this review

Latex Zebra
Sun, Jun 10, 2012, 4:20am (UTC -5)
Utterly forgetable episode. This concept is overused in Sci Fi, intelligent machines that is.
It gets used again later on with Emmergence. Just a season later.
Nick P.
Tue, Jun 12, 2012, 8:30am (UTC -5)
Should have been a season 7 episode, TERRIBLE, and BORING.
Sat, Jun 23, 2012, 9:25am (UTC -5)
Awful episode - sure, they exhibit signs of life, but it is like a domestic animal - designed/bred to work by humans. Ridiculous. But then I do see things from a 'human life is precious' point of view..
William B
Sun, Jun 24, 2012, 2:53pm (UTC -5)
To be fair to Data's argument, from his POV the Exocomps are not just "life" but also sentient, and sentience in Trekdom is always presented as being the key distinction between precious and non-precious forms of life. Additionally, the difference between killing a deer and the Exocomps is that the Exocomps are unique; I forget exactly whether there are any other Exocomps, but I think these might be the only ones, and thus not just individuals but a whole species would be wiped out.

In addition, to expect Data to treat human life as more precious than mechanical sentient life is a little unfair to him. I agree that the episode doesn't present the opposing case to Data's strongly enough, though.
Mon, Jul 2, 2012, 11:30pm (UTC -5)
Wow, seeing a Siri/iPhone reference in a TNG review caused some serious cognitive dissonance!
Thu, Nov 8, 2012, 3:43pm (UTC -5)
"Maybe I'm just prejudiced against little robotic tools when instead I should be leading the charge in freeing Siri from her prison of iPhone servitude."

The review was more entertaining than the episode. Thank you.
Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 9:01pm (UTC -5)
I agree with William B that, while the argument could have been laid out more clearly and is not always convincing, Data's position is less coldly-detached and more uniquely subjectivist towards machines and the potential of recognition. I think his quick dialogue with Picard at the end states the point pretty well: he felt these machines needed a form of representation that they would never get from those viewing them merely as tools. He was trying to live up to the standards Picard set in Measure of a Man.

I am not sure I find his argument for sentience convincing, since it is based on: a) flexible problem solving ability; and b) self-preservation. The latter is fine, but the robots do not ever seem to do anything beyond their primary function in the episode, so it is hard to disagree with Jammer's claim that they are mostly presented as very advanced tools.

Still, it raises an interesting point left untouched in Measure of a Man: how much of our willingness to accept Data is based on his walking and talking like a man, and how much on legitimate respect for his sentience? I think the episode is flawed, but has some interesting new insights for this ongoing TNG debate.
dead heat
Sat, Dec 22, 2012, 5:43am (UTC -5)
This is one I HATED when I was a kid. I was bored to tears by it. But when I watched it later in life, I enjoyed it a lot more.
Wed, Mar 6, 2013, 10:45pm (UTC -5)
Did anyone else but me think this was an outstanding episode??
Sat, Apr 27, 2013, 4:30pm (UTC -5)
I thought this was an excellent episode. A good followup to the previous episodes about sentience like "Measure of a Man". Especially liked the part at the end when Picard tells Data it was the most human thing he'd ever done.

Agreed with dead heat, its one of those episodes you don't appreciate until you're older.
Sun, Jun 16, 2013, 2:59pm (UTC -5)
To me this was an issue that had already been done several times in TNG.

Plus the alien scientist went through some pretty wild mood swings from complete bitch to enlightened.

The exocomps also seemed to have some pretty magical abilities too... they can reprogram transporters, replicate tools, predict the future.

OK, but not great in my opinion, I agree with the rating
Mon, Jul 1, 2013, 7:27pm (UTC -5)
I actually enjoyed this episode. I agree that watching it now as an adult gave me a different perspective -- as a kid i remember it being mediocre. I think it was poorly executed, but it's been a while since Data has made any progress in his quest for humanity, and I appreciated this development. I found Data taking a stand for artificial life, even without knowing if it was alive, to be a rather poignant development.
Sun, Aug 4, 2013, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
The best thing to come out of this episode is the actors' discussion of beards in the teaser. Quality.
William B
Tue, Aug 27, 2013, 11:59am (UTC -5)
I talked about this a little back when the review was posted, but have now rewatched it.

I don't know whether this is a great episode, but I do think it's a great Data episode. It's actually a lot like Odo's "Chimera," and while I don't think it's an episode on the same level of quality, I think that it covers some similar themes and comes to different and also interesting conclusions. I don't think that Data, or anyone else, adequately make the case for the Exocomps as not only alive but actually sentient, a distinction that the episode and the characters should make much more of. To the credit of Beverly and the episode, she makes the point that the Exocomps may be a sentient life form at the staff meeting. At its core, though, the episode rests on Data making a subjective -- not emotional, but deeply subjective and personal -- decision about the possibility of mechanical life forms. He lays this out to Beverly about his own uniqueness, and I think that also suggests much of the loneliness of Data's life. The only other person like him is Lore, who is evil and must, ultimately, be destroyed. He is alone, and while he aspires to be human, he knows that he never can be; and while others are close to him, especially Geordi and Picard, he also knows that they can never entirely understand him. Data largely looks and acts human, but the appearance of humanity is all hardware, and his acting human is at least partly because that's what he has always wanted to be.

Perhaps as a result of this, Data has a degree of certainty and even passion when arguing the case for the Exocomps than we usually see. When it comes to scientific discoveries, Data is certain of his conclusions but not closely invested; when it comes to emotional-based human matters and friendship, even when he does "know" what he "feels," he seems hesitant, halting, trying to think of how he should behave, using humans as guides. (For a fairly recent example, take his problems building up Geordi's funeral in "The Next Phase.") In this episode, he seeks Beverly's advice in order to gain some of the language to express his intuitions, but his immediate belief that the Exocomps are alive (and the word "belief" is used and underlined) comes down to a recognition that they are like him, and he understands how that works. His kinship is natural and unaffected because they are built up the same way he is; if they have come to life, intelligence and sentience, at least to some degree, then it is by a (physical) process much more similar to Data's coming by these than by the human's. When I watch Data in this episode -- his intense stare as he looks down the Jeffries tube as the Exocomp is tested and each second makes it less and less likely that Data is correct -- I see not just a belief, but even a hope. If the Exocomps are alive and are valuable creatures in their own right, then it's possible that Data can have value in a way that is not just bestowed by humans because he looks and acts like them.

(I'm reminded, too, of the gentle sadness of the conversation with Geordi in "Conundrum," in which Data speculated that perhaps he was from a race of artificial life forms, and eventually mentioned the possibility that he was unique. Data wants to belong to a larger community, and wants to believe himself to be something other than an aberration that cannot be replicated, and I think that this might contribute a lot more to his quest to be human than Data or anyone else is aware.)

So, on the Exocomps: they have a sense of self-preservation which means actually understanding that they can be transformed by the orders they are given; they are able to harm themselves and repair themselves in order to control their lives; they have sophisticated problem-solving. The way they genuinely replicate new pathways for learning is the closest Data has seen to his own neural net. And their intelligence in terms of problem-solving actually is really high. It's not necessarily that they have "superior intelligence" as Farallon suggests (and Data denies), but they are able to figure out a new solution to a problem based on experience that humans don't have; their intelligence in engineering problem-solving abilities are on the order of magnitude as humans', even if not necessarily equal to theirs. At the episode's end, they come up with an original solution and one of them is willing to sacrifice itself. Assuming that their self-preservation and capacity for creative problem solving positions them as alive, they still might be (as others have suggested above) more akin to domestic animals. Dogs will sacrifice themselves for their owners, but it's still rare to find ones that will sacrifice themselves for strangers. But I think the problem is that no one besides Data (and Beverly to a degree) is even asking these questions about the Exocomps (though Picard and is very sympathetic), and there has been no test developed to determine whether the Exocomps are sufficiently sentient to get the level of rights that they not be thrown into the fray to be destroyed to save humans. For Data, the possibility really exists that these are sentient, and he knows that they have self-preservation. More to the point, they have not determined a way to communicate with Exocomps in a way that if they were sentient, they could express it, and nor have there been the hundreds of years that humans have had to try to discover sentience in their domestic animals. Data refers to the Exocomps as potential progenitors of him, but I think that he is slightly hedging his argument once it seems that the Exocomps have failed the self-preservation test. In reality, does Data *know* that the Exocomps are less sophisticated and less deserving of existence than him? And if so, how can he give up their lives. Again, this is why I disagree with Jammer's argument that Data is advocating for the Exocomps from a coldly rational standpoint, and that this is a flaw in the episode. Data believes in the Exocomps' rights because they are his own rights.

That Data (and Beverly) are the only real advocates for the Exocomps makes sense too and hints at the extent to which Data’s acquisition of rights is a slow process. Everyone believes that Data is sentient, and acknowledges this, but much of it is that Data looks human, can communicate clearly, and because his human designer wanted to build a sentient android. Dr. Farallon is not another Bruce Maddox, or another Admiral from “The Offspring”: she is portrayed sympathetically, and reacts to the Exocomps with the same skepticism that much of the audience does. Time is spent on her, and on the reasons why she needs the Exocomps as badly as she does, in order to make it clear that there is a great loss to admitting in the possibility of the Exocomps being anything other than tools for labour. I think that she is written with nuance, given her own scenes to give us her values and spirited intelligence.

That Data makes the big decision, then, to protect the "rights" of the Exocomps over the lives of his best friend and his mentor, is huge, but perfectly in character and believable to me. This episode follows up from "The Measure of a Man" in that Data plays the Picard role (even mentioned explicitly) as advocate for the Exocomps, in a world in which their rights may be stripped away and a new precedent set. It's also remarkable in that it builds on "The Most Toys" and other episodes similar, with Data's extremely strong, and perhaps even rigid, moral beliefs. He will not sacrifice a life or allow a (potentially sentient) life to be destroyed, if he can avoid it. Partially, that trumps his closeness with his friends, but it is complicated too because he is also acting to protect machines with whom he shares a greater affinity than his closest human friends. The eventual compromise he comes to with Riker -- allow the Exocomps to make their own choice -- helps demonstrate that of course it’s not that Data wants his friends to die or is indifferent to them. Data demonstrates here an incredible commitment and integrity that is almost (and perhaps *is*) inhuman in this scene, willing to let his friends die, his career be over, to face a court-martial. This reminds me of the way “Clues” works, and while the Data/Riker scene here does not have the raw power of the central Data/Picard scene in “Clues,” the idea is probably even stronger. Data will give up absolutely everything to prevent the possibility of the Exocomps being sentient beings sent on a suicide mission without any ability to consent.

What I would have liked, I think, is for a real examination of to what extent Data's actions here are selfish, even if they are also in fact heroic: his willingness to believe in the Exocomps' intelligence, and his placing the value he places on them, is because he himself is an artificial being, unique, as he has described. I think that the episode’s weakness is that it doesn’t make enough of the difference between sentient life and all life, and that Data does not as well. I emphasize the possibility that the Exocomps are sentient in order to justify and explain Data’s actions, and Beverly has indicated that it is a possibility on the table; but Data’s argument sometimes veer too much toward the idea that all life is equal, that even if the Exocomps are to Data as a virus is to Dr. Farallon they should be protected. Obviously they shouldn’t be, or if they do it opens up a whole nexus of other issues that are not and cannot be discussed adequately here. I think, too, that a little more variation in the reactions of other crew members to Data’s decision, at the episode’s end, would be helpful. Picard is entirely supportive of Data, but does Geordi feel betrayed? Is Riker still pissed off that Data was willing to risk the captain’s life? This episode points to Data's alien-ness a great deal, and shows us in a new way something truly mysterious and a little frightening about him, all while he is behaving in a manner that is entirely ethical about him. I wish that the episode had a greater dramatic engine and pushed further on this point, but it went there.

At the end, the Exocomps save the day in their own way, and two of the Exocomps return; one sacrifices itself. The Exocomp's sacrifice connects it with Picard and Geordi's willingness to risk their lives to find and save Dr. Farallon's man, and Data's willingness to sacrifice himself for Picard and Geordi, and helps communicate that they are alive, as well as, in true TNG spirit, the idea that life is not actually a zero-sum game. Granting the Exocomps the freedom of choice and treating them as living, intelligent beings means that they cannot be used as slave labour, but it also means that they can bring something to the table that they would not otherwise. Still, it is a little pat and cheesy, which should bother me more maybe but, gosh, I love TNG, in the end, and this is part of the reason why.

I know I've gone on a lot, but I do think this is one of the most essential Data episodes and is the sensible follow-up to "The Measure of a Man" (and "The Offspring") for Data and for the show's take on artificial life forms. It has significant weaknesses, but I do love it, so, let's say a very marginal 3.5 stars.
William B
Tue, Aug 27, 2013, 12:09pm (UTC -5)
Just want to add: while the episode does mostly come down in support of Data's take on the Exocomps, there is no full realization; Farallon admits Data has given her "a lot" to think about, but otherwise the resolution is not complete. A final verdict on the Exocomps is not really given. And one thing I forgot to mention but should here: the fact that the Exocomps didn't fail the self-preservation test *does not* guarantee that they passed it; they only *didn't fail*, and the only way to check for sure whether they would preserve themselves is to *actually* put them in danger and see how they react. As a result, even though there are reasons for Data to guess that the Exocomps are capable of said self-preservation, and the episode ultimately mostly supports Data's conclusion, Data really *is* taking a big chance here, and that makes it a much more interesting story to me. Data believes, but he doesn't know, and he's not only willing to die for that belief, he's willing to let others die for it too. That is both cold-blooded and passionate. That's our Data.
Sun, Sep 1, 2013, 7:52pm (UTC -5)
Another 'Hey the new toy is alive!' episode. And once again Data gets a free pass.
Data asks Crusher the definition of lie. Seems to me he would have thousands of references that dealt with the subject in far more detail than Crusher's two minute 'hmm let me see' hypothesis. Guess he was just looking for an ally.
2 stars
Sun, Sep 1, 2013, 8:11pm (UTC -5)
Just an aside, doesn't the machines' creator have the design specs to make more of these things? And as their 'creator' and owner shouldn't she have the right to use them as she sees fit? She was able to turn off their self preservation 'mode' which suggests that they are more robot than lifeform.
William B
Mon, Sep 2, 2013, 3:16am (UTC -5)
@mephyve, while I like this episode a lot, I was bothered for a while about Data's asking Crusher the definition of life, especially since one of Data's majors was exobiology. However, the more I think about it the more it seems as if he was going to Crusher to bounce ideas off; he seemed prepared for her definition and didn't hesitate with his fire example and with himself as counterexample.

Even still, that doesn't 100% satisfy me. That is one of those things -- along with the lack of real life/sentience delineation, and the lack of real consequences -- that make me think I was too generous to the episode earlier. Sigh -- it drives me a little crazy, because (IMHO) it's so close to something great but doesn't quite argue it compellingly enough.

I disagree that Dr. Farallon's ability to turn off the self-preservation mode of the Exocomps was a sign that they were not alive, though. One can lobotomize humans, for example, which removes higher reasoning skills and what it is that makes them unique.
Sat, Nov 23, 2013, 6:08pm (UTC -5)
This is a very good episode, especially the last half hour, and far more dramatic than Measure of A Man, at last if we ignore the hokey looking Xcoms.
Tue, Dec 3, 2013, 4:22am (UTC -5)
Bad Episode.

Ok : the enterprise LOOKS for life ANY life.
(a class M planet with only a few microbes on it would from that mission point still be interesting)

Still I was like the writer of this article thinking of : not all life is equall.

So they have PROVEN to have a survival instinct.
so have MANY annimals and we we would slaughter them without thought to save a sentient being.

Sentient life < Annimal life < Plantlife < MicrobialLife
Simple as that.

I have not seen probe these exocombs are sentient, so they are like annimals.

Sure there WOULD be some green ecomaniacks that would kill humans for the SURVIVAL of an annimal species. And while these exocomps CAN be recreated (so you can revive them after becoming extinct) one may play the "don't kill all of a species"

kinda like, would you sacrifice the last 3 pandabears or tigers in the entire universe to save just 2 of billions of humans?

Normally I'd say : no, unless we have a proper backup copy. (like ability to clone them or something to restore the species after extiction)
and in this case we have!

even better there are 3! -> so the best bet would be, send in 2, not 3, keep 1 to make copy's later from.
Tue, Dec 10, 2013, 6:20pm (UTC -5)
DutchTrecker, I believe you don't know what "sentient life" means. I would like you to define it to include humans but exclude animals. My dictionary defines it "the ability for subjective feelings or perceptions" - in cave man terms: If it hit it, does it feel pain? That definition includes all animal life as sentient life.

But even aside from that, this episode raised a question about ethics. Is it okay for Riker to (essentially) kill three sentient beings to save two other ones? You say it is and you even list off the steps of importance of different forms of life. But you do this from a human perspective and you don't try to elevate your mind above that. Data is not human and thus doesn't have your mindset - to him it would not be okay to "slaughter them without thought" for humans. How would you approach this issue if it was Exocombs discussing to kill humans in order to save other Exocombs?

I don't try to persuade you to think Data was right. But please think about this issue from more angles, than just the narrow anthropocentric view that is natural to us. Trek is also about transcending certain of our "natural" points of view (consider: Money, Relationships, Conflicts etc).
William B
Tue, Dec 10, 2013, 11:54pm (UTC -5)
"Data is not human and thus doesn't have your mindset - to him it would not be okay to "slaughter them without thought" for humans."

--> This is what I really love about it. IMO, the episode actually goes out of its way to make it hard to relate to the Exocomps, and hard to believe they are sentient, in order to make Data's decision more shocking. But Data's decision is absolutely in keeping with who Data is and his own position. Data is more like the Exocomps in terms of how he was built and created than he is like the Enterprise crew. If he is alive and sentient -- and he has to make a leap of faith to believe in that, as he states in, for example, "Rightful Heir" -- then why can't the Exocomps be? Data himself admits that he hasn't sufficient proof to indicate that the 'comps are alive to Riker, but is following his beliefs.

Similarly, from Data's POV, the fact that Dr. Farallon could simply replicate more Exocomps is not exactly a comfort when considering deliberately sending three, uh, "civilians" (the Exocomps didn't willingly join an organization knowing that sacrificing their lives was a possibility) to save two officers. I mean, humans can always make more humans, that's no reason to throw human lives away. Data is perfectly willing to sacrifice his own life, too, so it's not as if he doesn't already have a plan in mind to save Picard & La Forge -- but Riker, understandably, won't sacrifice Data (even an insubordinate Data) to save those two, showing that he does identify Data as being as valuable a life as Picard & Geordi.

The episode does stack the deck a little -- having the Exocomps display not just self-preservation and creativity, but also self-sacrifice, to suggest traits that connect them with our conception of what is valuable about humanity -- but Dr. Farallon only makes it to "You've given me a lot to think about" and that she will be more careful with the Exocomps. She still hasn't come all the way to seeing them as alive, which means she's still not as far as long as Maddox was with Data at the end of "The Measure of a Man" (when he switched to "him" instead of "it"), and IMO she's been portrayed much more sympathetically than Maddox was. I don't think the episode requires that we come away thinking the Exocomps are indeed life of similar value to humans, but merely to understand why Data is absolutely dedicated to defending them when that's how he sees them. I think it could have been done better -- a stronger sense of demarcation between "life" and "sentient life," for example, though at least Beverly mentions that the Exocomps might be intelligent life at some point. (I think Data sees the 'comps as both.) But it's mostly a character piece for Data showing him applying the logic used by Picard to defend him in "The Measure of a Man" outward to other potential artificial life forms who have no such advocate, as Data says at the episode's end, which in the process poses an open question which complicates our assessment of Data's personhood.
Wed, Dec 18, 2013, 7:56am (UTC -5)
I found the character of Farallon strange/perhaps badly written. She is disappointed that the exocomps do not perform their intended function (at least not always), but shouldn't she be -thrilled- that she just invented a highly intelligent form of AI? Isn't that a much bigger accomplishment than some technological model that will be outdated in a few years?
Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 6:52pm (UTC -5)
I thought this was a great episode. As others said, great follow up to Measure of a Man. It was such an eloquently straightforward exploration of the meaning of life through a sci-fi lense.
Sun, May 18, 2014, 7:20pm (UTC -5)
So the creator of a tool doesn't know how it became sentient? Pull the other one.
Mon, May 26, 2014, 2:09pm (UTC -5)
I'm surprised to see so much hate for this episode. I think it is a great one, Data shines for what he says and what he does. It is also an episode that makes me think a lot about respect, and about how we weigh the various life forms on our planet (for instance, we all love pets like dogs and cats, but the vast majority of us also enjoys steaks at the same time).

I was actually surprised to see such a low score by Jammer, whose judgment I normally appreciate a great deal.
Thu, Jun 26, 2014, 11:40am (UTC -5)
Didn't they already do this premise? I've been watching all seven seasons and I seem to remember Data dodging a laser cannon mining drill. And mining. And intelligent life.
Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 2:30pm (UTC -5)
I can't see it as anything but a mixed bag. What if it were a rescue dog instead of an exocomp? Would Data have made the same decision? Endangering Picard and Geordi was a needless contrivance, and Data's decision was over the top. Could this really be brushed aside after the fact? I didn't care for the writers painting Data into this corner, it puts his competence as an officer in doubt.

With all this being said, I admit the episode (and contemplating this note) got me thinking about the core issue at hand, and on that score it's true there aren't clear answers.
Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 8:00am (UTC -5)
"What if it were a rescue dog instead of an exocomp? Would Data have made the same decision? "

Hopefully not, unless there were only 4 dogs left in existence. I might be willing to sacrifice myself for the only 4 dogs left in the universe.
Thu, Sep 25, 2014, 2:47am (UTC -5)
An interesting episode that was somewhat spoiled by the execution. The exocomps seemed to go from a sense of self-preservation, to one of apparently accepting considerable risk to do what exactly? Resolve a dangerous situation? - as they were designed. Save Picard and Geordi's skin? The latter idea is ridiculous, but it's perhaps insinuated by the script. And in fairness I'll add that I was more persuaded by one of them sacrificing itself for the other two at the end. I got a real sense of the series straining itself to make another 'Measure of a Man'; sorry, a little too contrived for that.
Sun, Mar 1, 2015, 11:44pm (UTC -5)
I still wonder why people dislike this episode so much. They can never really give me a good reason, they just seem to latch onto things they dislike, without ever thinking about the story that it's trying to present.

I never got any impression that this was a cheap attempt to repeat Measure of a Man, but rather that it was simply another big step in Data's character progression. I never found the Exocomps utterly unbelievable, as they showed signs of actual intelligence beyond that of mere farm animals, and the entire point of the series is "to seek out new life", so of course it becomes grey whether three unique creatures are worth the lives of Picard and Geordi, despite how much we personally like them. Every argument against this episode seems to be judging it harshly for the wrong reasons, rather than what the story was really about - Data.

So frankly I'm baffled at the lengths to which people go to rationalize their dislike of this episode. It's imperfect, but every Trek episode is imperfect. Boring? I'd hate to see what excites you if actual science fiction isn't exciting enough for you. Was Darmok too tedious? Or Measure of a Man too slow and contrived? Bizarre rationalizations abound.
Wed, May 13, 2015, 9:42am (UTC -5)
I'll weigh in as someone who liked this episode, but I would not rate it more than 3 stars. It does qualify as an episode that further develops the character of Data. It is really more about him than the exocomps, in my opinion. It is nowhere near as great as "The Measure of a Man" episode in advancing the idea of the importance of artificial life.

First my criticisms: I totally agree that Dr Farallon's character was not well-written. She seemed rude and disagreeable for most of the episode. She even jumped down Geordi's throat a one point, only to apologize when he explains he was trying to help her by assigning some of his staff to her project. That she comes round at the end seems contrived. As others have pointed out above, as a scientist/engineer, she should be THRILLED to have achieved creating artificial life rather than being irked that her robotic tools are acting up.

I also found the premise that Picard is assigned the exclusive duty of evaluating a new mining technology to be hard to believe. Dr. Farallon presents it as extremely important that Picard recommend her orbital mining apparatus to the Federation. Why? Is it a question of future funding, or just a matter of pride with her? It seems that if the mining equipment works well and is cost-effective (which I'm not sure putting equipment into orbit to perform a ground-based operation would be) -- then it would prove itself, wouldn't it? On the other hand, if an independent outsider's evaluation were needed by Starfleet, wouldn't it make sense that they would assign some mining expert who would be familiar with the operation and effectiveness of all the current mining technologies? I.e., someone who could properly evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the orbital plasma generator in relation to the alternative technologies already in use? The fact is, they could have simply written the story to include some mining expert as a guest star who is taken aboard at the beginning of the episode to perform this evaluation.

A final quibble is the feeling that I felt that this entire episode has sort of been done before. Back in Season 1 or 2, there was an episode where Wesley creates these nanobots for a school project. The things get loose and start infecting the Enterprise's systems. The crew then starts to try to exterminate the little robots, only to realize they are an artificial life form that must be preserved. Another episode I was also strongly reminded of is TOS' "The Devil in the Dark" -- another episode that's all about discovering a new life form in the course of running a mining operation.

These are minor quibbles, I must admit. There were several things I liked about the episode. For one thing, it was aimed at an ADULT audience. The previous two episodes this season seemed to be all about appealing to audience members age 10 and under.

Then there's the fact that the story advance our knowledge of Data. That always makes for a good episode.

I also liked the design of the exocomps. They kept reminding me of baby R2D2s or something. They were awfully cute for "tools," which was no doubt deliberate to make us feel more sympathetic.

I also got a good laugh from the beard discussion in the teaser, and I enjoyed Dr. Crusher's role in supporting Data with his quest to define life. But then I'm partial to Beverly anyway, so I like episodes where she gets to do more.
Thu, Jun 18, 2015, 2:54am (UTC -5)
The acting in this episode was bad, and the writing is not very good either. It is hard to understand why anyone would say that Data was alone, or that there is no precursor technology to androids.

It is too bad because the goal of the episode must have been great, but all they did was reference a bit of philosophy. And they assassinate Data to fill time. The robit which sacrifices itself knows more about moral dilemmas than Data does.

Wed, Jul 22, 2015, 10:17am (UTC -5)
For me this episode approaches 3 stars. I really liked the exocomps. I liked them as a concept and I also thought they looked really cool. I also liked how such a robot made by an ambitious scientist, with learning and self preservation could end up with sentience, seems like a realistic end result. I thought Data was a bit over the top in his response, but explained well in the end. The best plot twist for me was the exocomps seeing through the simulated test. It shows some of the difficulties of testing for sentience and worked well in the story as well.
I didn't like the conversation with Dr. Crusher, should have made it about sentience not life. If you're going to explore a moral issue make sure your terms are correct. It might have been better as Data the authority explaining it rather than asking Dr. Crusher. (Why her anyway?)
Just as an aside the exocomps reminded me of Huey Dewey and Louie in the movie "Silent Running".
William B
Fri, Aug 14, 2015, 9:56am (UTC -5)
I don't know why I keep coming back to this episode, but something about it sticks with me -- I think it's because it's a flawed episode that could have been excellent but is still good. One thing I wanted to add to the discussion: I like Dr. Farallon and also think that her resistance to the Exocomps possibly being alive is totally believable. First of all, it is convenient to continue using the Exocomps in the short-term. But more than that, Farallon has also wiped the memories of Exocomps repeatedly every time they showed the "malfunction" that Data associates with self-preservation, which indicates that she has essentially been re-lobotomizing (or maybe even killing) these again and again, IF they are alive. We also know that some of the Exocomps have been destroyed -- or at least one, which vapourized itself for no apparent reason. It would indeed be a great boon to her as a scientist if she accidentally created artificial life, but to do so means facing up to the possibility that she has also been killing and torturing it.
Sun, Sep 13, 2015, 12:36pm (UTC -5)
This one was kind of hit-and-miss. I like that it is, essentially, a sort of spiritual successor to "The Measure of a Man" and "The Offspring," but it's got some major problems.

First off, what works - some wonderful character growth for Data. First, let me define some terms. Post-TOS Trek has always used the word "sentient" to denote "alive and intelligent" beings. The word they should use is "sapient." "Sentient" merely describes a sense ability; "sapient" describes (to borrow the definitions from "The Measure of a Man") a being with intelligence, self-awareness and a consciousness. The writers on TOS understood this distinction and often used the word "sapient" correctly. But, for whatever reason, from TNG onward Trek has misused these terms. Now, how does this apply to Data? Well, I think it is demonstrated pretty much right from the get-go that the Exocomps are, indeed, sentient. When one saves itself from destruction on the station, I don't know how you can argue with that. But so what? That just proves that it's alive in the sense that any non-Human animal is alive. And we use non-Human animals for a variety of purposes (the term "beast of burden" exists for a reason). Hell, we even use a great deal of them for food! And, look, I love animals as much as the next person, but some of them are mighty tasty! Does this self-preservation instinct imply sapience, however. No, it doesn't. But, when Data and Crusher discover that the Exocomp went above and beyond its instructions and saw right through their little test, he begins to have suspicions that they might, in fact, be sapient. Still, he doesn't have rock-solid proof. Therefore, the fact that he is willing to risk the lives of his commanding officer and best friend in order to protect what he only "believes" are sapient beings is a wonderful bit of growth for him. From a purely, cold, detached, logical way of thinking, the choice is clear - use the Exocomps to save Picard and LaForge, just like we would use any non-Human animal to save them. However, Data is able now to go beyond the coldly logical decision and base his actions on his instincts (or, in a more spiritual sense, his beliefs). I love that! Like Picard tells him in the final scene, it's the most Human thing he's ever done (aside, maybe, from trying to kill Fajo in "The Most Toys").

But, "The Quality of Life" has problems, all revolving around the character of Dr. Farallon. What is this woman's problem?! She may have just accidentally created sapient artificial life and she doesn't seem to give a shit. In fact, it goes beyond just not caring; she looks at it as a major inconvenience. She may have just stumbled upon an Earth scattering scientific breakthrough but she'd rather focus on her mining operation. What the actual fuck?! That would be like me saying "So, I was working on how to improve the efficiency of automobile carburetors and by sheer accident I scientifically proved that God exists; but don't you dare focus on that because my automotive work is MUCH more important!" Seriously, is this woman fucking insane?! But that brings me to the second problem I have with her character - she's so underdeveloped. I could, actually, accept the fact that she's willing to overlook, and even be downright hostile to, the idea that the Exocomps are sapient if I understood why she was so determined to get this Particle Stream up and running. But we don't get any explanation, beyond a discussion with LaForge in Ten Forward about how she thinks about the project all the time. But why? Was it her parents' idea and she's desperate to follow in the their footsteps or live up to their examples? Was her husband, or sister or some other loved one killed in a mining accident and so she's desperate to find a way to make the mining operation safer and more efficient? Give me something; give me anything. Because without those details she really comes off as needlessly obstinate and borderline crazy.

Based on all of that, I would probably give "The Quality of Life" a score of 5/10. However, because the episode was able to get me invested in the fate of the Exocomps (which isn't an easy thing to do since, in real life, they're nothing but inanimate props)(the only other time I can remember that happening for me, off the top of my head, was in the Tom Hanks movie "Cast Away" - which got me to tremendously emotionally invest in a damn volleyball :P), I'll be generous and give it a....

William B
Sun, Sep 13, 2015, 1:34pm (UTC -5)
Aw, am I the only person who liked Dr Farallon and how she was presented? And thinks that "NO I DIDN'T CREATE LIFE, THE DOZEN EXOCOMPS DESTROYED IN THE COURSE OF MY WORK ARE NOT CHILDREN I HAVE THOUGHTLESSLY MURDERED BUT SCRAP METAL!" is a very human(oid) response to being presented with a new moral paradigm that not just hurts her plans but retroactively means she's been using slave labour for months.
Sun, Sep 13, 2015, 2:17pm (UTC -5)
That's actually a good idea. But if it's there it's buried so deep in the subtext that I never noticed it. That could be imparted to the audience by something as simple as a worried look on her face in just one scene. Instead, she just seems needlessly obtuse.
Diamond Dave
Sat, Oct 3, 2015, 1:54pm (UTC -5)
Well, we've just done a kids episode so how about one with cute robots?! Silent Running indeed springs to mind.

OK, so we've got a contrived set up where Data has to make a choice between the exocomps and his friends. His choice in favour of the exocomps is described as his most 'human' but Picard. But I would have thought that most humans would have rationalised the decision to save their friends and to hell with the robots. I don't actually have a problem with the choice Data made, if indeed his perspective gives him unique insight into the robotic world. But to suggest it's a 'human' response? One step too far for me.

Farallon also struck me as well characterised as an obsessive scientists who's work is going to get canned in 2 days without a breakthrough and you're telling me are these hovering screwdrivers I've made are alive, say what now?

Yet another episode where the concept was perhaps better than the execution. The beard thing was fun though. 2.5 stars.
Tue, Oct 13, 2015, 12:41am (UTC -5)
Hated this episode. I hated it so much that I searched online for places where people discuss TNG episodes so that I could see if others hated it as much as I do.

I do not hate it for bad writing, bad character development or any other typical critique of film/TV.

I hated Data in this episode.

First of all, Data shows way too much emotion in this. He tests the exocomps 34 times after they tested it as a group. he expresses loneliness when he explains why he wants so damn badly for these little pieces of crap to be considered "alive."

Let's forget for a moment the absurdity of a simple tool, which is programmed to do (relatively) simple tasks and has, at best, a rudimentary form of AI (to identify a problem in the facility and fix it) somehow learning to preserve itself...and better yet, to "sacrifice" itself to save his little robot pals. As a software developer I am fully aware that machines do exactly what you tell them to do and absolutely nothing more.

Let's say these little crapbots are "living." Data decides, because he is feeling lonely (no emotions, eh?), that he is willing to kill the captain and jordi just to save these three buckets of bolts. The humans, who are obviously an infinitely higher form of life and sentience than exocmps, that Data considers "friends" are less important than these things?

If i were Riker, after seeing Data screwed over the only chance to save the captain and jordi, I would have told Data that not only was he going to be powered off, he was going to be ground up in a man-sized blender and his metal bits shot into space. Oh, and I would've included his precious, precious exo buddies in the blender as well. I then would have ordered Data to turn around, angrily fingered Data's power hole and done just that.

But before doing so, I would have powered him back on, then asked Data how he "felt" about his upcoming doom...since all the sudden he could feel so much love for his scrap-metal compadres. Then, in the middle of Data's response, I would have shoved my fingers back into his coin slot and made good on my promise.

I truly hated Data in this episode and cheered audibly for the Dr who created the robots.

Oh, and Crusher pissed me off, too. After he whining about being nice to ol' Hue the friendly Borg, she would've been packing in minutes.
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 4:11pm (UTC -5)
I am having trouble understanding the negative reactions (and even lukewarm reactions) to this episode. I watched it recently, and I found it fantastic except for the somewhat contrived jeopardy scenario at the end.

In "The Measure of a Man", Maddox says something like "If Data was a box on wheels we wouldn't be having a discussion". This is essentially a rebuke to that line, and while I think it would have been more plausible to Data still be punished for his actions, I agreed with them, not because I had sympathy for the exocomps but because I was convinced by Data's detached arguments. And I loved Crusher's attitude in this episode, she hadn't been this well written and acted in a while.
William B
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 5:19pm (UTC -5)
@Nic, I mostly agree. My one significant problem with this episode is that there is not enough effort spent on distinguishing between what it means for the exocomps to be alive at all, versus alive *and* sapient, so that, as Jammer e.g. suggests, there isn't an effort distinguishing between whether the exocomps should be accorded human rights or something more akin to animal rights.

HOWEVER, what occurs to me is that really, this debate is fully consistent with every other "AI as life form?" discussion across the series. "The Measure of a Man" poses the question as, "Is Data a man or a toaster," not "is Data a man, a toaster, or more like a pig?" To lay entirely into this episode for this problem rather than acknowledging that the distinction between different forms of life (human vs. animal) strikes me as a little chauvinistic -- the Exocomps don't look human, therefore even if we acknowledge them to be alive we must evaluate their animal position, whereas *if* Data or the Doctor are alive they are automatically of the same status accorded to other humanoids. That said, Crusher says that the Exocomps might be "intelligent life," and that line covers the episode to some degree -- it seems as if they believe the Exocomps to be sapient -- but I do wish that the episode had spent a bit more time on that distinction, though, really, it's a bit of a consistent problem across all "AI issues" episodes in both TNG and Voyager.
Mon, Mar 21, 2016, 10:18am (UTC -5)
I wasn't expecting much from this but it was surprisingly okay. I ended up caring about the Exocomps and understanding Data's position, even if I didn't really agree with it. Not really thrilling or memorable, but solid.
Gabe Edwards
Fri, Jul 15, 2016, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
Saw this when it first aired. I remember being embarrassed for everyone associated with it.
Mads Leonard Holvik
Wed, Jan 25, 2017, 11:42am (UTC -5)
I really like this episode. I find it touching that Data is prepared to be court martialed when he stands up for the exocomps. I love how utterly gentle and kind Data is. Riker and Picard show great understanding and abiity to come up with solutions. Underrated episode!
Mon, Feb 27, 2017, 5:24pm (UTC -5)
Oh, and Crusher pissed me off, too. After the whining about being nice to ol' Hugh the friendly Borg, she would've been packing in minutes.

HAHAHAHA! Here here.

I still enjoyed this episode and it does ask a fundamental question of existence. I do agree with you that it wasn't handled too well, though.
Wed, Mar 1, 2017, 5:11am (UTC -5)
Rosario took the words out of my mouth (years ago): best thing about this episode is Jammer's review of it. I am in awe of the reviewer's scalpel.

It would have been far more credible if the deus ex machina ending had not been tacked on. Picard and Geordi should have been allowed to die by Data's hand. That was the logical and expected outcome of his decision but the episode was too chickenshit to follow through,

I don't mean that I want to see the main characters die - obviously, as an engaged viewer I love me my Picard. Even the poorly-characterized Blind Engineer Guy has wedged himself Into my heart. But the final plot-cheat by which Data's choice has zero consequences and all's well that end's well, sinks this ep for me.

The most interesting part of the episode is the thing Jammer points out: to humans , both within TNG and in the meta-world of TV watchers, Picard and Geordie simply matter emotionally a whole lot more than some little robot-beasts. To Data, who does not assign emotional weight to any sentient lives, ethics is stripped to its bare and clean essentials: Picard's life is no more important than a single Exocomp's, and to force an Exocomp to die for Picard is as ethically incorrect as enslaving Picard and forcing him to die rescuing an Exocomp.

Can you imagine the follow-up scenes after Picard and Geordie died? Everyone in the crew, all those emotion-driven humans, would look on Data with horror. All this time they (and we) thought he was "just like the rest of us" . They even fought to save his life in "Measure of a Man". And in return his wiring is such that he repays them in this fashion. Suddenly "just Data being Data" would be exposed in a new light. He really *doesnt* have feelings toward the rest of us. And that makes him supremely virtuous and committed to Starfleet's ideals... And it makes us loathe him.

Data has incorruptible ethics and honor without emotions, and all we humans have corruptible ethics and questionable honor *because* of our emotions..

I suspect the final ending of that plot would have been: Picard and Geordie are buried, the whole (emotion-driven) crew ostracizes and despises Data as a murderer, and the (emotion-driven) human leaders of Starfleet court-martial him as a traitor and condemn him to serve life (i.e., eternity) in the stockade

Poor Data, bewildered by human emotionality, would slowly rust behind bars while forever (rightly) protesting his innocence, but would be incapable of sorrow or rage. Meanwhile we and the Enterprise crew would be traumatized by grief, rage, and guilt until we die.

Wed, Mar 1, 2017, 9:30am (UTC -5)
@Tara - I think the episode is shifted a bit by the fact that the original solution involves killing ALL the existing Exocomps. I actually liked the Deus Ex Machina ending. Data was willing to let them die, he just wasn't willing to force them.

There were problems with it of course, but Data is not being nearly as awful as you think he is.

When arguing with Riker he says "Let me offer an alternative. Transport me to the station, I will attempt a complete manual shut down of the particle stream. "

And when Riker counters with "What if we re-connect their command pathways and we give them a choice? You've assumed the exocomps would shut down before accepting this mission. What if we ask them if they are willing to proceed?" Data agrees that it's reasonable.

His entire problem is with killing the only 3 members of what he believes to be a sentient species without even giving them a chance to object. Essentially enslaving them. It's hard to go at it with "the whole crew ostracizes and despises Data as a murderer" when he was willing to go down there himself and sacrifice himself for his friends.

And ::SPOILER ALERT??:: he eventually makes good on that in the final movie.
Wed, Mar 1, 2017, 11:27am (UTC -5)
"Picard and Geordi should have been allowed to die by Data's hand. That was the logical and expected outcome of his decision but the episode was too chickenshit to follow through"

I'm not sure I understand this line of reasoning, if the writers wanted Data to sacrifice crewmembers for his exocomps, then they would've written two extras in to die. That may not have the emotional impact of Picard dying, but it would still drive the point home that Data was sympathetic enough to value exocomps and biological sentients equally.

I would suggest that the writers only wanted the viewers to momentarily flip the ethical conundrum of the episode on its head: i.e. "why's Data protecting these robots, they're expendable" versus "why is Data protecting biological lifeforms when they're just as expendable as these exocomps." As long as the lifeform A vs. lifeform B concept is presented, I'd say the episode did its job.
Wed, Mar 1, 2017, 7:30pm (UTC -5)
Apologies: I haven't rewatched the episode in years. I had forgotten that Data offered to try to save his crewmates by going in himself. I remembered it as a situation in which Picard and Geordie were sure to die without exocomp assistance, and Data said, "Let the exocomps decide if they want to help, And if they don't, then byebye to my crewmates."

(Which would have been a brave stand, and I think consistent with Data's nature. If he indeed thought the exocomps were sentient, then he should have treated them as no less important than his crewmates.)

Chrome: yes, I would have preferred to see two extras die, instead of the not-credible happy ending. Why didn't the writers do that? Because they wanted to give us Intense Nail-biting Drama. And because they didn't *want* to be stuck with the followup episode: Data's actions have caused the death of two people, the angry families blame Data, there's an investigation, blah blah blah. From a writer's perspective what they gave us is the best of all worlds: the stars are put in jeopardy! But then they are saved miraculously! There are no consequences for anyone! Everything goes back to how it was fifty minutes earlier!

Writers are gods: they create the universe and pull its strings. What I want is for them to create a believable universe. And I found nothing believable about the exocamps' choice.

As I remember - please correct me if I'm wrong - Data ends up asking the exocomps if they are willing to risk their little lives to save a couple of humans. And they agree! Thus, happiness reigns.

Okay: why would the exocomps agree, except that their helpless little strings are being jerked by the writers? The exocomps don't give a fuck about Picard and Geordie. They haven't gone to Starfleet. As they are recent creations, there's no reason to think they have religion, philosophy, love of handsome men in uniform, or any notions of the glories of self-sacrifice. Asked to risk themselves for some ugly bags of mostly water, they should have said "Hell, no. We aren't stupid."

The fact that they said yes suggested to me that (a) writers were pulling their strings, aka Lazy Plotting, or (b) they were merely bound by their early training: they'd been programmed as slavish tools and slavish toolhood was all they knew. It was no more their 'choice' to risk their dim brainwashed lives, than it was a woman's 'choice' in Old India to climb on the funeral pyre beside her dead husband. Less: because the exocomps were new and young and pretty much lived in their inventor's suitcase if I recall correctly. What the hell did they know of the world and their options?

I see a similarity and a contrast to Tosk in season one of DS9. Tosk ("I am Tosk. The hunted.") was a creature who had been raised to be killed on his home planet for the pleasure of the ruling class. Like the exocomps he had been 'programmed' to be used by his masters. For this reason, the DS9 crew had appropriate misgivings about letting him give his life in the hunt. Initially it was not at all clear he understood his choices. But Tosk, unlike the exocamps, could eloquently state his reasoning: he knew his situation; he knew his options; he was willing to die; he considered it a noble calling.

The exocamps, by contrast, are unfathomable and have almost no exposure to education or to the wide world, so their odd 'decision' to risk death for picard and geordie suggests programming and poor insight rather than nobility.

In sum: I think the writers pulled a fast one. They gave us a lazy jeopardy premise created for emotional manipulation, and resolved it with an unbelievable, and morally questionable, out. Picard and Geordie were saved and Data faced no consequences and TNG went on unchanged.

If I am mis-remembering the episode I apologize. But this is how it struck me at the time: lazy manipulative writing, more than anything.
Thu, Mar 2, 2017, 8:46am (UTC -5)
"As I remember - please correct me if I'm wrong - Data ends up asking the exocomps if they are willing to risk their little lives to save a couple of humans. And they agree! Thus, happiness reigns. "

Not exactly, the exocomps are given the Enterprise's plan, and they reject it. They come up with a new plan in which only one of the exocomps will be destroyed. Basically, they made the decision which would result in the least amount of "lives" lost. Sounds very logical to me.

But I also think that the exocomps willing to sacrifice themselves reinforces the idea that they're sentient. They not only care about their own lives, as indicated by them rejecting the original plan that would kill all three of them, but they're sympathetic to race that made them, humans, as far as they understand the importance of saving them (but not at all costs). An intelligent being that can weigh all sorts of painful consequences and come up with the least painful for society, is indeed showing high forms of consciousness and awareness, thus sentience.
Thu, Mar 2, 2017, 5:26pm (UTC -5)
I don't see a problem in identifying the exocomps' choice as such. Yes, it is presumably derived from their pre-sentient engineering and programming. But so are our own impulses and choices shaped by pre-sentient evolutionary-genetic heritage, overlaid with received culture--we still assume that our basic personhood entitles our lives and decisions a kind of respect very distinct from that given to nonsentient animals. There has to be a bright line. That the exocomps are less eloquent about it than Tosk should be immaterial.

I similarly argued that Kamala's ("The Perfect Mate") agency was her own, to be respected. Yes, these beings are different from us; their programming is not ours. The point is, can we see past that?
Wed, Mar 15, 2017, 10:41am (UTC -5)
A much more polarizing episode than I would have guessed, but after watching the previous western-wanna be (that didn't seem to have horses), it played pretty well to me.

I do see the point where the stakes may have been a bit too high to side with Data's position. Perhaps having a couple of minor characters in danger may have been better - but the premise is interesting. If the creator of the Exocomps can disable the self preservation programming, does it mean that specific portion of code is what makes it "life"? There are no hard/quick answers to this or many other aspects of this episode, which makes it good Trek to me.

Opening scene was fun, seemed more natural and less forced than some of these poker games.

3 stars for me.

Oh, if anyone was playing the exocomp drinking game, they would have passed out by act 4. How many times is the word "exocomp" in the script?!
Sat, Mar 25, 2017, 4:06am (UTC -5)
Terrible episode. Once again one of the mains is allowed to violate orders with zero repercussions, not even a slap on the wrist. Glad to know that Data finds "possible" life to be of greater value than the lives of his captain and best friend. He'd probably abandon his stupid quest for humanity at the first chance to join the robot uprising. Where's his sense of duty to Starfleet and his fellow officers? The implications of how untrustworthy Data is are astounding but of course will never be addressed. I'm not sure the episode realizes how sinister Data comes off, but it does lead me to doubt he's as benevolent to his creators as he lets on. Maybe he's only out there with them to find a robotic race to join. Though Data is accepted and treated as a Starfleet member, his willingness to abandon that for any old toaster that reminds him of himself is both chilling and foolhardy.

The exocomp design is so bad, it looks like it belongs on TOS. Can't believe something so cheap and fake was unironically used in a TV show during the 90s. Even Red Dwarf had better designs, and they were meant to be a parody of old cheap-looking crap sci-fi!

Also, and I know all Trek writers failed even middle school science, but viruses aren't considered life.

I think it's pretty stupid that Trek expects humans not to value their own species above others yet depicts Data doing the exact same thing in a positive light.

I agree with what others have said, Data is way too emotional and unobjective in this one, to the point of making some very irrational and selfish choices. I know he's never been as truly emotionless as claimed but he usually operates with a bit more sense and logic than this.

Even if the exocomps are "sentient" (and the episode made no good argument they were, which is probably why I dislike the episode so much (well, that and Data being a traitor and getting away with it (objecting is one thing, but mutiny is unacceptable, if he had been able to talk his way through instead I'd probably be ok with the episode despite the lack of convincing argument))) there's not a good reason to assume they're "enslaved". They're programmed to serve a purpose and are fulfilling that purpose, and for a machine (and even for men) what could be a greater life than fulfilling your purpose? Data and everyone else are anthropomorphicizing these bots in assuming they are all unhappy just because they were never given a career choice. (Funny that Data himself is doing so, doesn't he realize not all robots are made in the image of man and designed to think and act like man the way he is?) Indeed, the one that broke its own control circuits to avoid being ordered where it would get blown up later restored the circuit so it could be remote controlled again! If it were unhappy being a tool wouldn't it instead leave the circuit broken and go off doing whatever it pleased rather than making itself serviceable again? It could have attempted to communicate in some way to prove its sentience, but made zero attempt to do so. It was happy to continue its work, it just didn't want to blow up. The doctor had the right idea of just being "more careful" with them in the future, becoming useless would certainly not make the little bots happy. (Data is always searching for a sense of purpose, you'd think he of all people would put his personal feelings aside and understand this.)

Conversely, if the one that had blown itself up HAD done so out of a sense of despair, then that proves these little tools made to use screwdrivers in tight spaces were already (quite implausibly) MUCH more emotionally advanced than Data (a robot designed to actually be human-like, albeit without emotions (possibly as a safety procedure after the predecessor turned out emotionally unstable)) in terms of emotional ability and thus actually MORE sentient and human than he was. If Data had realized this I doubt he'd be so gungho to save them (his reaction to Locutus calling him "obsolete" was to take off his arm after all, and he fixated on Lore's supposed superiority for whole seasons, he doesn't seem to like being made to feel like an inferior piece of technology).

I don't really understand the "we love cats and dogs, but enjoy steaks at the same time" argument to say we are somehow worse creatures for it. We are animals, omnivores, and like it or not we need to eat other animals in order to survive. A cat or dog has no problem killing and eating a rabbit after torturing and terrorizing it for their own amusement, and while I know there are some sick people out there who probably do wound an animal and enjoy its suffering most people try to kill pretty quickly when hunting, rather than toying with a dying animal for hours and then leaving its mangled body to suffer a slow death because we were bored and needed the stimulus. I'm not saying that cats/dogs are evil (or that all humans live up to our own moral standards, although most probably are mostly capable of it if they choose). Animals don't function at the level we do, and concepts such as "good" and "evil" are beyond them. You can train your pet not to do these things, but you cannot teach it that doing so is "evil", just that it displeases you. Animals are often more intelligent than we give them credit for and are capable of nuanced relationships with each other and even other species, but they don't have the capacity to sit down and look at themselves and ask "is what I'm doing good or evil?" Even if they had the language to express such a sentiment the concept is entirely foreign to them and I'm doubtful even something as intelligent as a gorilla or dolphin could be taught to truly grasp the concept (maybe "good" and "bad" as in "this is pleasing" and "this is not pleasing", but not a greater, actual sense of morality). Animals are known to behave altruistically and selflessly, as well as to do terrible things, but in the end neither proves they have a morality. Humans however do have a sense of morality, of good and bad, and have the power to change their environment. That's why we should (and I'd even say it's our responsibility to do so) take good care of other creatures and our planet, because we are aware of ourselves and what is right and wrong, and can kill our prey with as little suffering as possible, and maintain our natural resources wisely. I know a lot of eco-nuts would just say we're a cancer on the planet and should off ourselves, but we deserve to live just as much as any other animal. (And I know someone is probably going to mention relativism and how "good and evil are totally subjective, man", but I'd argue that objective standards can be reached based off of our own knowledge and studies, for example, "raping someone harms their body and mind and so shouldn't be allowed", "animals feel pain so we should take care to minimize their suffering", etc etc.)

@John Oct 13 '15

It's late and your description of the whole situation and what you'd do in Riker's position has had me in stitches for at least 5 minutes. Kudos

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