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Spearced
Mon, Dec 11, 2017, 5:26pm (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S6: The Quality of Life

I really liked this episode. At first I thought it was going to be a standard "sentient machines go bad" yawn-fest, but I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, the scientist character was a little blandly written and her make-up was unusually poor for this late season, but hey, TNG was rarely perfect (blasphemy, I know). It's usually about the subject and the ideas being conveyed and explored, and less about the execution.

As others have noted, it feels almost like a follow-up to "The Measure of a Man" (one of my top 5 TNG episodes). In many other episodes around this time, a sudden jeopardy situation often felt forced and unnecessary. At first I thought it would be the same with this episode, but it actually provided the perfect set-up for the central dilemma, so I'm happy with it.

One misconception many commenters seem to have about Data's actions in this episode is that he was equating the little robots' worth as equal to that of Picard and Geordi. That's absolutely not the case. The moment where Data made his decision to lock off the transporters was when the scientist and Riker decided to use the robots to save the day while blowing themselves up in the process.

If Data were faced with both the humans and the robots being in a life-and-death situation, and was told that he could only save one or the other, I am convinced that he would have chosen the humans without hesitation. But this situation was different. In this case, the robots were being forced to become the equivalent of suicide bombers without any say in the matter, and were even going to be 'lobotomised' (having their command link severed, or however they put it in the show) so that they could not resist the command. If we are talking about a sentient life-form, that is a completely barbaric and unjustifiable action that Picard (and the Federation at large) would have considered fundamentally unacceptable, regardless of the potential of losing two human lives in the process.

So yes, I think Data's actions were totally in-keeping with his character, as he had enough information (and a little bit of mechanical 'instinct', as he put it to Riker) that the robots were 'alive' insomuch as they were self-aware and capable of learning and self-preservation. One idiot commented above: "machines do only what you tell them to, nothing more." In our current day of AI development, this statement is simply laughable. I myself am developing compositional AI for music, and I certainly expect it to surprise me by not doing exactly what I expect. That's half the point of AI development in the first place, and the robots in the show were clearly showing signs of intelligence, programmed or not.

As with the best Star Trek arguments, it's not clear-cut and there are no absolute answers. Could you make the argument that the robots should have been sacrificed to save the humans regardless, as they are clearly a far lesser life-form? Of course. But as Data himself pointed out, they did not have any choice, nor an advocate to speak on their behalf, so to do so would have gone against the very fabric of Star Trek's morality.

It would definitely have been interesting to see Riker or the scientist character disregard Data's protests and find a way to ensure the first plan went ahead. On DS9 or even Voyager, maybe they would have done this and have a far darker end to the episode. But this is TNG. They talked about it and looked at the subject in as even and enlightened a way as possible. That's the reason we watch this show, isn't it?

3 1/2 stars from me.
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