Star Trek: The Next Generation

“The Quality of Life”

2.5 stars.

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

Review Text

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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99 comments on this post

    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.

    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..

    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.

    Wow, seeing a Siri/iPhone reference in a TNG review caused some serious cognitive dissonance!

    "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.

    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.

    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.

    Did anyone else but me think this was an outstanding episode??

    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.

    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

    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.

    The best thing to come out of this episode is the actors' discussion of beards in the teaser. Quality.

    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.

    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.

    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

    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.

    @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.

    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.

    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.

    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).

    "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.

    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?

    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.

    So the creator of a tool doesn't know how it became sentient? Pull the other one.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    "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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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".

    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.

    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....


    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    @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.

    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.

    Saw this when it first aired. I remember being embarrassed for everyone associated with it.

    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!

    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.

    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.

    @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.

    "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.

    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.

    "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.

    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?

    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?!

    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

    After the way to test for life was 'bring it into perceived mortal peril' I hoped that the the fountain failure turned out to be set up by the exocomps as a testing device to find out if humans are alive. And then for the crew to 'fail' that test in exactly the way the exocomp failed Data's.

    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.

    @Spearced, I enjoyed reading your post very much. I like this episode a lot (possibly disproportionate) and you've hit on many of the reasons why.

    I don't agree that because the exocomps, or let's say an animal don't have friends, relationships and attachments the way we know, they then have less value. We don't know anything about the reality of being animal, but we very quickly believe we have rule over them. If some alien inteligence came to earth and wanted to use humans as lifestock, they might use similar logic.

    I just rewatched the episode, and again found it emotionally engaging. This episode is not so much a comment on the value of life from the eyes of humans, as it is from the viewpoint of Data. Data is a machine, and he has experienced the same as the exocomps have. Data stands up for them, and Picard has empathy with him. This has a powerful impact on me as a viewer. Why is it so hard to imagine that these machines can be intelligent? Just because they do not have two legs? This is science fiction! When Data blocks the transport of the exocomps, we get another very powerful moment, and the ensuing dialogue between Data and Riker is another high point.
    The exocomps are shown to be intelligent, but even more importantly we see how intelligent and good Data. There is just a good feeling to this episode, because of the inherent goodness of Data, but also because we can feel the compassion and empathy of both Picard, Riker and LaForge.


    "It is hard to understand why anyone would say that Data was alone."

    In at least one other episode -- it might have been "Time's Arrow" -- Data describes himself as "alone." He might have said so also in "Inheritance," the one where his mother is an android. I was surprised in both or all of these episodes that the crew members he was talking to didn't reply that he wasn't alone, that he was a valued member of the Enterprise "family." You know, on A Very Special Episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

    Conflict contrived!

    The main problem with this episode is that the Scientist lady's resistance to accepting the exo-comps as being conscious/alive is completely out of place. Assuming she's driven by her ego, and a life's investment in her creations, it makes little sense why she'd be so resistant to accepting that the things she created are conscious/alive. This would be an ultimate achievement and ego-fulfillment for a scientist such as her. She obviously value's Data to the extreme (as with every other scientist in the TNG universe), yet she has in a way equalled data's creator dr. sung by creating the exo-comps. So, even by HER OWN standards, creating self-aware exo-comps is a FAR more meaningful and powerful invention than any "particle fountain" or other background work.

    Her reluctance throughout the episode makes no logical sense to the viewer in this light. Throughout this whole article I was just hoping and hoping that Picard would look her in the face and say "don't you get it! You've become one of the greatest scientists in the universe by creating artificial life---single handedly!!! This accomplishment, and its ramifications throughout the galaxy FAR exceed any work on your 'particle fountain'!!!! Good Lord!!!!"

    But nope, this B*^%, for some god-only-knows-why reason psychologically resists this attitude. And why? because "she didn't create them to be alive, she created them to be tools" ?!?!?!?!

    Hit and miss episode with some interesting ideas -- trying to rekindle the magic of "The Measure of a Man" with Data believing the exocomps are alive/sentient. I suppose we shouldn't be "put off" by the appearance of the exocomps when considering their sentience. But this episode looks dated with our world of AI -- no way in hell those exocomps are alive although they do seem to be sentient. That Data makes his "most human decision" to fight for their right to choose is a worthy premise.

    The Dr. Farallon character was your fairly typical Trek guest character -- nothing special, offers some token resistance to Data's belief. She's again the usual risk-taking scientist obsessed with her new mining technique -- not a great actress and hardly compelling.

    But Data is way out of line with his beliefs and jeopardizing Picard/Geordi. He locks out the transporter but did he have any other plan for saving the 2 crew members?? Was he just going to let them die? This strikes me as idiotic -- it was Riker who suggested the plan of giving the exocomps a choice. Data apparently ascribes the same quality of life to the exocomps as Picard/Geordi -- the episode should have dug deeper here. No repercussions for Data's insubordination either, I would assume. That shouldn't be the case.

    There's the usual arbitrary technobabble part about the exocomps saving the station but an interesting twist is one of them sacrificing itself to save the other 2.

    Too bad the episode didn't return to the poker game in the opener with Crusher going brunette or Worf/Geordi/RIker shaving their beards -- another drawback of this episode. Weird when episodes have the majority of the openers being unrelated filler.

    2.5 stars for "The Quality of Life" -- felt like it should have been more compelling given the ideas being examined. But maybe this episode didn't age very well. The whole mining techniques strikes me as ridiculous and the guest character/actress was mediocre. No way can the exocomps be alive -- the episode focused on life instead of sentience it seemed to me, which may also have been the wrong choice. Still, this is very much a TNG episode with decent ideas but iffy execution.

    Not sure which I was hoping for most.. Seeing Rikers baby face again after all these years, or seeing Crusher as a brunette. Disappointed that neither happened!
    I liked the episode. There seemed to be more of an authoritive tone to Data's voice and demeanour than usual. Particularly at the beginning when he was talking to Geordie.
    Some interesting moments, although a little goofy. I think the story deals well with Data's logic in not sacrificing potential intelligent life forms who aren't given a choice in the matter to save the lives of Starfleet officers who have chosen a particularly dangerous career. I don't think many humans in those same circumstances would reach that same conclusion and that works for me.
    I think Riker was unfairly used as a bit of a dullard to force the point forward.

    When I was very young I had a Dalek annual which contained two stories about a wonderful self propelled mini robot called an Orbitus. This re purposed Dalek invention could repair space rockets, project cinema films on a kid's wall, foil bank robbers and be your best pal.
    I really wanted one.
    The exocomps reminded me of the Orbitus in some ways.

    Disengage nostalgia programme...
    So we have this tedious rehash of some of the ideas from The Measure of a Man-itself a bore in my view.
    In the inescapable briefing room scene in which the weekly irritant is badgered by the crew we think we are dealing with an assertion that the exocomps may be alive.
    Then, out of absolutely nowhere the ever annoying Dr Crusher whines about the exocomps being possibly intelligent life forms.
    No one had previously said anything about them being intelligent-Data was just defending them on the basis of being alive-like a single celled organism is alive.
    So we conflate life with sapient life and then of course we get the whole nonsense about Data's latest mutiny and the noble robots sacrificing themselves and then suddenly the antagonist is reformed in time for the end credits and Picard condones Data's disobedience.

    Yep-down the plug hole we go again.


    I liked this one. It was about Data's fundamental purpose or aspiration in life in many ways and Data is along with Patrick Stewart the best part of TNG. It seemed to me to be the culmination of a lot of Data's development.

    In this case the technobabble had a purpose and was secondary to the story of the exocomps.

    I liked the guest scientist. She added an interesting character, both an accomplished scientist but also very human with her dedication and ambition. It is nice to see someone with an interesting character, not the mad scientist or fluffy shallow character either but a driven starfleet scientist who can disagree and argue with La Forge and Data and then reconcile and move on as professionals do on the job.

    Even the doctor and Riker weren't too annoying.

    It was quite watchable……until the Tin Man’s re-hashed nonsense about the Gadgets of the Week being alive. Sorry, but they are not alive, and neither are is the TM. The TM is a sophisticated machine, nothing more, which gives the illusion of being more because it is the invention of script-writers who are more. Data is as genuinely tiresome as the well-hated Wonderboy was said to be.

    The episode stopped being intelligent, and became tiresome. Machines with angst are funny, now and again, because they are ridiculous, but when the angst never lets up they become tedious. Data needs a convenient airlock - or better still, a trash compactor. Unfortunately, that does not happen in TNG. But human beings, unlike St. Rubbish-bin, are expendable.

    And having a weird hairstyle like something from Cosmo does not an alien make. Ray Bradbury was able to make even things on Earth seem alien - a gift far too few script-writers in ST shared. TNG is all too often a soap opera in space.

    Still, at least the nauseatingly twee Trevis and Flotta were not inflicted on the viewer. Mercifully, neither was the unbearable Q. But an episode does not become a good episode merely because detestable characters do not feature in it.

    Two stars.

    Half star.

    The writing for this episode could not have been worse without trying.

    I was rolling my eyes right from the beginning where the writer is basically having Crusher accuse the male characters of displaying fragile masculinity by hiding behind beards because only men can grow beards and if they were really confident they would shave.

    Next you have the constant misuse of words the writer felt sounded sciency because the writer failed to understand that these words have actual meanings and cannot just be thrown around at random.

    The A plot revolves around the overdone trope asking whether a machine made by man can be "alive" the same way that a human being is "alive". The answer is no. A machine which is running on computer code cannot be "alive" since it is just a series of algorithms from which the machine cannot deviate since even the deviation requires the machine to consult its code to determine what to do. Just because something APPEARS to be alive owing to having sophisticated computer code that MIMICS free will doesn't mean that the machine has free will. It's just an illusion of free will. But this argument is never proposed or considered or debated.

    Instead the argument in this episode boiled down to "if we presuppose that the machine has free will then it has free will. QED" without allowing any counter arguments other than weak straw man arguments of "machines aren't alive because I made them". It was the exact specious argument I would have expected from this bad writer. Why not instead ask why the machines do not try to communicate if they are alive? Clearly the machines do know language since they are sophisticated computers and could easily make a tool to speak if they were alive. But this argument is never allowed to be proposed.

    And because the writer is bad at his/her craft they refuse to let anyone argue that the Exocomps can be mass produced in a factory. It doesn't matter if you destroy two, ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, a billion. You can always manufacture more. So the writer making everyone wring their hands over the Exocomps was farcical.

    And these deus ex machina machines could not even do what the writer proposes they do. in the very first scene where the writer introduces them the space station is going to explode in 5 minutes. The only way to prevent the destruction is to travel down a Jeffries tube through 4 bulkheads, a trip which would take more than 5 minutes. Well the Exocomp is about the same size as a human and floats VERY slowly, about the same speed as a person crawling through a Jeffries tube. So how the heck does the robot which moves at the speed of a human arrive at a point in the space station within two seconds of departing when a person traveling on the exact same path would take more than 5 minutes? Do the Exo comps travel through time and space the moment they are out of sight? Are Exo comps made in the same factory that manufactures the magic grits seen in My Cousin Vinny: "[s]o, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits, when it takes the entire grit-eating world 20 minutes?...Well perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove! Were these magic grits? I mean, did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?!"

    Secondly the woman claims that the Exo comps replicate new circuitry every time they complete a task. Why? If adding more circuitry increases the efficiency or productivity of the machine then why should it wait until it completes a task to add more circuitry? Why not just manufacture the machines with the maximum amount of circuitry from the beginning? Furthermore why? If the machine is "learning" and "learning" is really just data acquisition and the machines already have the storage capacity approximately equal to Data, then shouldn't they already have enough storage capacity to store all the information acquired from ten seconds of operation?

    For that matter how does the machine even know how to produce tools and operate those tools? How does the machines diagnose problems? Because the machines have computer code instructing them how to do all those things. So the machines do nothing but follow their computer code. Everything the machines do is simply following their code and not one single thing in the episode would make anyone who is intelligent think otherwise. The writer doesn't understand how robots work and so to the writer a robot following its computer code to accomplish a task exactly the way it was coded to and never showing it did more is being alive according to the writer.

    Furthermore the argument that Data is just like every human and therefore alive thus proving that machines can be "alive" fails for reasons which require breaking the fourth wall. IE Data is "alive" because the actor is alive and the directors give the actor the same treatment they give the actors for all the other characters. Data is alive because he is played by a human actor reading lines written by a human writer performing actions directed by a human director. The writer should therefore exercise restraint in making this argument as it is a fallacy.

    The show also fails to distinguish between the Exocomps and the ship's computer. The ship's computer is vastly more sophisticated and vastly better at problem solving than the Exocomps. But how come no one wrings their hands over the ship's computer or asks whether a computer that could create the Doctor Moriarity hologram is "alive"? Is it because the ship's computer isn't cute or sexy?

    We're supposed to mourn the death of an easily replaceable machine which showed no signs of actual torment over the fate of dying but we aren't supposed to care that Picard set the ship to self destruct. A machine with algorithms for self preservation isn't alive and the fact that it tries to preserve its body as a result of self preservation algorithms doesn't mean that it is in torment.

    The machines didn't even have an animal level of self awareness. There were no scenes of the machines running around playing and exploring.

    Let's also remember that single celled bacteria are "alive" but aint no one going to mourn the death of a bacteria.

    There was nothing unique about any of the Exocomps which would make one mourn the loss of any individual Exocomp or consider a perfect duplicate of an Exocomp to not be of the same exact value as the original. No one is going to ask whether an Exocomp which was broken down and then transported is a brand new Exocomp and the original Exocomp is now dead because it is just a robot which is nothing more than circuits and reproduce-able data.

    One last edit, I promise this is it.

    Data's treatment in this episode was awful. Even though Data is supposed to be written as a machine incapable of emotion, he is crying over these robots so much that he commits mutiny to try saving them. Well does Data have emotions or not? If he doesn't have emotions then he wouldn't care about the Exocomps. If he does have emotions then the writers need to stop declaring that he doesn't have emotions.

    Furthermore Data's mutiny makes no sense. If you are a computer making a decision about the value of two objects, one of which is an easily duplicate-able and reproducible machine that just repairs ships and the other is a decorated organic lifeform in charge of leading the crew on a spaceship then you are going to choose to save the organic lifeform. Having Data even consider saving the Exocomps over Picard was bad writing personified as it was out of character both for Data and for Data's character as an emotionless android.

    @ George Monet,

    I would have to revisit the script to be sure of this, but it seems to me that the answer to one question you posed answers all the others. When you ask how the machine knows how to produce and operate tools, your assumption is that they do so because of programming, ergo they are not alive since they are automatons. From this you surmise that adding on additional circuitry is redundant since that could have just been added from the get-go. But if the answer to your question is that, in fact, they are not programmed how to do these things, then the rest of your assumptions would seem to come into question as well.

    In fact we know much more about programming now then we did then, and it now appears that it's possible to create a learning AI that does not need to be taught the tasks it's too do, even playing games at an advanced level. The machines instead can teach themselves these things. And yes, they do have programming that allows them to do this, but it's specifically learning-programming, not a fixed set of instructions of how to do some task. A machine like this would of course need to add to its programming (or circuitry) when advancing in its learning process. And I assume likewise that the episode is arguing that sentience is a potentially emergent property that can arise out of a sufficiently complex learning programming. None of this is weird or fancy as far as sci-fi goes; in fact it's relatively mundane and straightforward as far as I can tell. The main point the episode is making is that it's far harder to spot when the emerging intelligence doesn't look humanoid and doesn't behave how we normally expect life forms to behave. It's basically playing the bias card, and that in order to recognize new life we need to make sure not to ignore new kinds of life. The Devil in the Dark made a similar type of argument, as have various other episodes.

    Ironically VOY goes retrograde on this issue, and asks us again to recognize sentience in a hologram specifically on the grounds that he looks like us and seems to be able to learn to act like us. I actually think this reasoning is riddled with flaws, whereas what we have in The Quality of Life barely even made me twitch when it first aired. Not sure what's so complicated about it.

    Continuing my Mom 2020 rewatch, it was interesting to me how my mother saw the exocomps as a jesus figure. I didnt get that all but interesting to see how boomers think

    They directly confronted Bruce Maddox's argument: I would not have had this argument if it were a box on wheels. They did make make boxes somewhat cute as far as boxes are concerned.

    Crusher/Data conversation presents the dilemma plainly.

    I wasn't completely sure that I was alive by the end of this episode.

    Data asks Beverly to define "life", but the episode is really about "sentience" at a minimum, which is a mental faculty in which the possessor is self aware and therefore conscious, i.e. able to perceive the world and understand it, and ultimately have feelings regarding its own destiny.

    In other words, there are plenty of life forms that fulfill Beverly's criteria, but which have no sense of actually being alive. This would include "fire" by the way, and for the writers to include a "virus" on the list is a serious mis-step. A virus lacks a cell structure of its own, and is a poison to that which lives, that which it uses. It may be near to being 'alive' at best, but It is not a sentient form.

    The whole discussion about the exocomps being alive is really off the mark. It's about their cognition, not their being alive. The story spins out of control in turning Data into a union organizer for the exocomps and my death occurred when Data staged a walkout just as the two people dearest to him in the whole universe are in mortal jeopardy.

    It may have made some kind of sense that Data's interpretation of the prime directive may have caused him to defend the exocomps, but it was completely out of character for Data to do this without some hesitation. If Data is about anything, he's about deep examination of moral quandries. Data dismissive of his friends is completely violative of the character's constitution.

    If this is the best the writers can do, I'll take that virus right away. Make mine a double. 2/9

    After the enjoyable whimsy of A Fistful of Datas, proper sci-fi TNG. A superb episode.

    I really liked the way the story developed, and the idea of the machines becoming sapient. It reminded me in a way of the old TOS episode in which a newly developed command computer takes over the Enterprise.

    The story appears to take a wrong turn with the emergency on the space station - I was far more interested in the idea of the sapient machines - until it turns out that it's a premise for a very interesting ethical dilemma around the same subject.

    And I think it is a very genuine ethical dilemma - whether Picard and Geordi are his friends is not the point. Would it be OK to send three human strangers to their deaths, to save his comrades? Three slaves?

    The micro-replicator that the exacomps have seems a bit far-fetched. Why can't Data equip himself with one, so he never has to go looking for a screwdriver?

    The way the alien engineer woman comes round at the end seems a bit easy. And what happens to the exocomps now? Data is no longer alone in the world and the Federation has the capacity to create similar, conscious life. But I expect we never hear about them again.

    Nonetheless, a very thought-provoking and absorbing episode. Possibly the best in the sixth series so far.

    How many of you are here after the season finale of Lower Decks?

    Dr Farallon and crew obviously from planet of the Toni Basil's - 'Oh Data, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my I'm no longer sentient and my life doesn't matter.'

    Watching this AGAIN and it is just GARBAGE. Wears very thin after repeat viewing

    An enjoyable episode. Three stars. While Data's move was ridiculous, how it ended was awesome

    Just watched this again. Stands up much better than a lot of people think, including Jammer. It's not all-time great - maybe 3/4 stars - but Data's behaviour isn't inexplicable or overdramatic. Remember: the way proposed to ensure the Exocomps did what was wanted involved removing their volition. An emergent lifeform (because that it clearly what it was, by that point in the plot) was to be sacrificed...against its seemingly sentient will, by lobotomizing it!

    Re the court martial, Data could not have used an inverted defence to justify the death of the beings - "I was just following orders" - and his defence for disobeying orders would therefore pretty clearly have been powerful. And - as Data himself says to Picard - there is a strong parallel to the declaration of Data's own rights. "There it sits!"

    I'm not a Beverly Crusher hater like many, but I acknowledge they never really do much with her character. Therefore, I say this probably for the first time ever: Dr Crusher was the highlight of the episode, with her observations - and subsequent wager - regarding beards. I wear a beard myself, and found myself smiling at her proposition that beards are affectations, and at the defensive objections of the bearded trio at the table.

    An interesting episode from a philosophical standpoint so let me get my irritations out of the way first.

    1. Dr Farralon is typical of the TNG attitude to creating alien species: a few wrinkles around the nose, some forehead furrows, but otherwise entirely human… and that’s an alien? Oh come on!

    2. A crisis down on the station that requires it be evacuated, and Riker sounds a red alert? Where was the threat to the Enterprise? Nowhere. No red alert appropriate.

    Otherwise we have an interesting discussion on the nature of life. Now I personally don’t believe that an intelligent machine with neural nets and a program for self-preservation is nevertheless sentient, though others may disagree. To me the exocomp is still no more than an intelligent tool with limited capacity for “life”, and therefore Data’s conclusion is faulty. However, It’s certainly an issue worthy of a Trek episode.
    Where I draw the line is in Data’s rebellion. So what if the exocomp is a rudimentary life form? They have no individuality and can be recreated at will, so using them to save unique life forms such as Picard and Geordi is simply not an issue. It isn’t reasonable to have Data take the position he did, just so that Picard could smile at him and say “That was the most human decision you ever made.” No, the most human thing Data could have done was to try and save his friend Geordi. The exocomps could be studied later when the danger was over.

    Not sure how to rate this episode. Some aspects are 3 stars, others are less than 2, so I’ll just leave it there.

    Great debate here, with for and against arguments almost alternating. Civil too!

    It's interesting that the exocomps' behavior can be explained as sapience, or purely as them following their programming. They were never shown to actually override their programming. A destroyed exocomp would not be able to complete the repair task at hand, and thus, the only way to complete the programmed task is to back off till the danger persists, so that the task can be completed after the danger has subsided. This is what the exocomp did. The real test would have been to give them a task they could *complete* which would then end up destroying themselves. Given such a task, if the exocomps back off, they are sentient, if they don't they were just following their programming in the first place.

    Interestingly, the task of saving Picard and Geordi is such a task. And the exocomps do complete it at risk to themselves, proving themselves non-sapient!!!

    Or sapient and self-sacrificially loyal. Or sapient and able to evolve the "needs of the many" philosophy.

    = = = =

    Or, maybe:
    goal + predictive ability + problem solving ability = sapience

    Blah to me first run and nearly unwatchable now because I remembered what happened.

    Partly it's just so badly undercooked and contrived.

    Geordi's "oh crap, we can't do anything" at the beginning, so she demonstrates the robots. Famed miracle working starfleet engineers can't do something when needed by the plot.

    That's not unique here, of course, but I was annoyed that Geordi DID already know how many bulk heads between them and the problem. But the real problem is the whole episode seemed sloppy.

    The bigger problem is the episode did little to make me forget that contrivance and just seemed tired and clichéd.

    Data questioning Beverly about what life is was good. But they create new intelligent life forms all the time in TNG, and THAT should have been discussed.

    The beard discussion really was the high point here.

    The intro of the exocomps didn't make sense. The core of the station involves crawling through long, narrow tunnels to access for repairs. Why would anyone design a station whose core is so inaccessible? Imagine the Enterprise's warp core being so remote.

    Data's conversation with Crusher about fire and crystals also fell short. She just says, "We don't consider those alive." The issue they're dancing around is the so-called soul, or spark of life. It's unfortunate they didn't talk about THAT philosophy, given that Picard already did so in "Measure of a Man" when Data's sentience was in question.

    If anything, this episode proves why Data was always a LtCmdr and would never be given his own ship. Logic has its shortcomings. Humanity does not consider all lifeforms equal. The fact that he put the lives of LaForge and Picard en par to robots whose appearance of sentience had not been confirmed, is actually disturbing. So that means if you program a holodeck character to be somebody like The Doctor in Voyager, they are automatically equal to a live human? Nope nope.

    I appreciate what this episode tried to do but it's kind of hokey. Dr. Farallon's turnabout was also unconvincing. She herself said that she didn't care how many times she fell from the tree and got hurt, it never stopped her. So she is impulsive and goes by her desires. As soon as the Enterprise was gone, she would've went right back to treating the exocomps as tools.

    @ Robert,

    To be fair, I think the episode is banking on us understanding that it takes a non-organic 'life form' to have a sense that other non-organics may be alive even if they don't resemble biological life. The fact that Data is essentially treated as a person seems to be the bolded underlined premise requiring us to see our own bias in wanting to treat electronic life as less important. Maybe they didn't quite highlight this point enough, but it's because he's Data and doesn't have 'organic bias' that is uniquely in a position to use his logic to determine that the Exocomps are not exhibiting flawed behavior, but rather rational behavior. And I do think that Picard would be the first to volunteer to put his life on the line if it meant protecting a potentially new life form.

    How come they were able to beam the exocomps down but they weren't able to beam anyone up?

    ONe thing I liked about the episode is that the female character is written to be the unsentimental one, not attached and anthropomorphizing her babies, and not a mad scientist doing the same over his M-5 computer.

    If the Enterprise encountered ChatGPT, they would surely declare it a life-form. After all, it can carry on a conversation as well as Data, with contractions and everything.

    I might like this episode more if they hadn't gone to the "Oops, it's sentient!" well so many times, getting sillier with each one. DS9 had at least one, where they found flashing lights in the bottom of a hole that turned out to be "life." And Voyager decided holograms could come to "life" if you didn't reboot them once in a while. It seemed like the test for sentience on Trek boiled down to whether something could *seem* sentient. If it can communicate with them and show some basic self-preservation instinct, they're ready to declare it sentient on a level with humans. But we can already, here in the early 21st century, build machines that can fake it as well as the exocomps, yet we aren't about to give them rights.

    I don't expect TNG to go into the question of the soul or any definition of life that goes outside the material plane. But without that, all they can do is argue over whether something *seems* sentient, which isn't interesting enough to keep doing as many times as Star Trek did.

    @ Cale,

    "It seemed like the test for sentience on Trek boiled down to whether something could *seem* sentient. If it can communicate with them and show some basic self-preservation instinct, they're ready to declare it sentient on a level with humans. But we can already, here in the early 21st century, build machines that can fake it as well as the exocomps, yet we aren't about to give them rights."

    That would be a fine objection, but it seems to me that exactly the opposite of what you describe is happening in this episode. Part of the point of it is how much the Exocomps *do not* seem like they are alive, and no amount of convincing by Data can make anyone believe they are. So this is the reverse problem: how can you identify life when it has none of the normal traits you're looking for, like communication, organic parts, etc. All they had was the fact that they were apparently refusing to be sent to their deaths, so if anything this is a much more interesting test than whether or not they can provide conversation like the Enterprise computer can.

    This episode wasn't nearly as horrible as all the egregious prime directive ones, but it still wasn't great. It once again took one of these "all or nothing" simpleton approaches to life. Sometimes I wish they didn't broadcast such episodes because it may start brainwashing people into thinking that antibiotics are wrong for killing trillions of organisms to help improve your one life. I know bacteria isn't the same "sentience" argument, but still. I understand the writers trying to tackle a point here, but they do so in such an ironic way..they reduce the value of life and which lives should be saved to almost mathematical equations and emotionless reasoning. The irony of DATA, a machine, making the choice to save other machines and not the humans is self defeating and if anything shows his bias toward artificial life. It would be a much better episodes if it didn't go to such extremes, but not anywhere near as bad as "nothing human", "dear doctor", or "prey" in the other star star trek series.

    This episode does really make one question how it is just so easy for any one rogue officer to lock out all of the controls. In this episode we see data locking out the transporter from the bridge, yet in "power play" we see it is possible to overpower the bridge from a panel in the turbolift. It's a little unbelievable that it is possible to simply over-ride any part of the ship from any other part. Almost like a borg vessel just without the collective. It would explain however why every single display screen on the ship is exactly the same. (Although there is no excuse for the "Enterprise" series ridiculous computer design). But I guess the navigation panels and engineering control systems having absolutely no letters, numbers, or labels on them whatsoever and just empty rectangles, while buttons to open doors on "Enterprise" being labeled "F34" will just always be one those good old star trek gems for newbies to inevitably discover and laugh about LOL

    This one dragged on a bit for me but I like the story.

    I enjoyed the episode mostly because Data is the most fascinating character in the show when he is pursuing untamed ornithoids without cause.

    In hindsight, Data's conviction led directly to the creation of Peanut Hamper, the single most annoying character across the breadth of the entire ST universe. The only possible resolution would be for Captain Braxton to show up and deactivate Data before he encounters tbe Exocomps. Granted, that would kill Picard and LaForge, but I have to believe they would understand if they could interact with PH for a few seconds.

    I enjoyed the story. The machines reminded me of the three little robots, Huey, Duey, and Louey from the 1970’s sci-fi classic film Silent Running, starring Bruce Durn.
    This episode, alias is the run of the mill standard plot with hum drum ending.
    What I’d expect if the Enterprise stayed around so Data and company worked with Dr. Farallon to really determine if the Exocomps truly are a new life form, and if things didn’t go in the direction the doctor was hoping for; And her “drilling” project was in jeopardy because of the confirmation those Exocomps were alive, then just like that earlier season six episode depicting that negative energy vampire ambassador that sucked the life from female victims, Dr. Farallon would somehow instantly summon so armed hidden drone security personnel and kidnap our Enterprise heroes and the episode would devolve into another half-baked routine rescue beam down to over come the baddies and save the day—again

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