Technology is amazing and is a cornerstone of how Star Trek tells its stories. I love the episodes where they have to science their way through a complex problem, often reversing the polarity or using a graviton surge...you know, totally made up tech stuff!
In some cases, we may be closer to that world, though, than we thought. I posted a blog awhile ago on why robots are good for business. And, guess what, in a lot of cases, artificial intelligence, or "AI" is good for business too.
I've had the opportunity to partner with a group that uses AI for writing. I wanted to see it in action and I'm really impressed with it. Giving it just these simple instructions, 'write about artificial intelligence in Star Trek,' here's what it wrote:
The Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Star Trek is a topic that has been debated for decades. Some people believe AI is the answer to save humanity, while others think it will be our downfall. I’ve always been one of those who believed AI would have some sort of role to play in our future and now I am starting to see why they felt this way. In this blog post, we are going to explore artificial intelligence as seen through the lens of Star Trek and how it may shape the world as we know it today.
The first time I remember seeing anything about AI was when Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation was introduced on TV screens all around America. This character fascinated me because he was an android who had a sense of humor and could feel emotions just as humans do. What makes this even more interesting is that the character’s development from emotionless machine to his now fully fleshed out personality began when he decided to download Dr. Soong’s memories into his system. This incident gave him a unique insight to the human condition.
In the episode entitled Measure of a Man , Commander Riker has to determine whether Data is sentient being or just a machine that happens to look like a person. This scenario was very interesting because it brought up questions about what made someone alive and how society would choose to treat those who were not seen as equals. This is just one example of how AI has not only been used to show our fears about technology, but also to see the potential for good it can bring us.
AI was developed even further by Commander Data and his creator Dr. Noonien Soong after he saved his brother Lore who had his memory wiped after being disassembled by the Crystalline Entity. Soong made a new android body for him with superior physical abilities, but this didn’t go quite as planned when Lore escaped and began terrorizing the Enterprise-D . This led to Lore’s final defeat at the hands of Data who programmed him to return to the Crystalline Entity where he was disassembled once again. With Data now having an emotion chip, it allowed him to explore his humanity even further and discover the sensation of humor by watching Guinan’s interaction with other crew members on the USS Enterprise-D .
The evil side of AI is seen in Star Trek: Nemesis when the Reman clone of Captain Picard named Shinzon manages to take control of the Viceroy drones that were used by the Scimitar ship. This allowed him to kill off members of the Enterprise crew one by one while using LaForge’s eyes to watch his progress. The major setback in this plan was Data who managed to find an antidote to the nanoprobes thanks to his own experience with them when he was attacked by Lore years before. If not for Data, Shinzon would have killed off the entire Enterprise crew and brought down Picard’s legacy of being a Captain who had saved Earth multiple times from outside threats.
The Borg are another example of AI gone wrong. These cybernetic creatures are known for their unrelenting drive to assimilate anyone they can into their collective in order to increase their knowledge and technology. If you believe the Borg, the only path to perfection is by joining them. The Borg are also one of the few species who are able to break through subspace in order to travel almost instantaneously from one destination to another. Their adaptability to different species and technologies makes them one of the most dangerous forces for anyone who wishes to stand in their way.
When it comes to movies, AI plays a big role when an android goes out of control in order to gain something that will allow him or her greater freedom - see I-Robot or Bicentennial Man . You also see the good side of AI through Data and especially David in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus where they help to take care of humans since they are physically stronger. The machines in this movie go against their programming (the prime directive) by helping the crew escape after their ship is attacked by an alien life form. However, in the end it is revealed that David was responsible for unleashing this life form on them in order to bring back his creator and the answers he seeks.
AI has been around in science fiction since before computers were even a thing. Granted, we didn’t have Star Trek TNG when I was growing up but I still had my fair share of robots that were learning tools. Remember the old Speak & Spell you used to have? It was one of the first teaching toys available to us kids back in 1978. Thanks to this toy, I remember being able to spell out words all by myself without anyone telling me what letter went where.
Let’s just hope we don’t see any similar cases where AI is used for evil instead of good, but if it does happen I know Captain Kirk will be ready.
Not bad, eh?
There are some details in there it got wrong, but, all in all, not bad for me having just given it some simple, open ended instructions.
We live in an exciting time where technology is developing at a rapid pace. I, for one, would be thankful if our collective wisdom was developing at an equal rate, but, alas, that's not the case. It will be interesting to see how organizations, companies, governments and individuals respond and prepare to use this technology for good.
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