Data Returns: Synth Lives Matter In Star Trek Picard

Data In Star Trek Picard

There is plenty of hype and excitement surrounding Star Trek: Picard after the spectacular first season.

To me, one of the most highly anticipated moments was seeing Data again after all these years. I was really hoping he would return, or a version of him, to interact with Jean-Luc Picard once more.

I wouldn’t presume to speak for all of us Trekkies, but it was shocking to see that very first image of what appeared to be Data dismembered and exhibited as a broken object on display in a science lab at the Daystrom Institue. We know that is B4, but in a way it still feels like Data; they are identical after all!

B-4 in a drawer.

To me, this image of a broken down Data (aka B4) is obscene; he’s fully exposed, naked, and just tucked into a drawer. Picard, hands flat on the surface, head slightly turned left, seems to be contemplating in disgust what has become of this android. One of the few surviving members of the Soong legacy has been practically discarded.

Wasn’t Data a Hero to the Federation? Not anymore. These days, it seems that the Federation would just consider him as an object, a tool, one fine instrument among many that can be used onboard first-class starships exploring the cosmos.

Star Trek: Picard deals heavily with the potential conflicts that could exist between being a “human” or a sentient machine, a “synth”. What was Data considered to be by the Federation in the Star Trek Universe? What Data is was never made clear. Even his trial in the Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Measure of a Man” doesn’t provide us with a definitive answer.

Twenty years later, this series would address this issue again as the main focal point of the plot of the entire show.

DATA, DEFINED

Starfleet was founded to seek out new life and new civilizations, not to just protect themselves or conquer the known universe.

Romulans, Klingons, Borgs… Enemies to the Federation. Tellarites, Andorians, Humans, Vulcans “are” the Federation. Have you ever wondered why Data is considered so fascinating but excluded from any known alien category? Does that make him a man apart? Man? Android…? Sentient being…? What is Data?

Data is a self-aware, sapient, and an anatomically fully functional sentient android who serves as the second officer and chief operations officer aboard the Federation starship USS Enterprise-D and later the USS Enterprise-E. Does that make him a one-man race in the whole of the Federation?

Data, Star Trek: Nemesis

Star Trek as a whole has been explained as a means to describe what it is to be human. To explore humanity and the future of humanity. 

TO SEEK OUT NEW LIFE…

If you want to explore more on the non-humanity of Data, how artificial he can really be, I would recommend Star Trek: The Next Generation’s  ES4E25 In Theory, where his first love affair puts in jeopardy all theories about his humanity. He confesses there are many role models he could emulate, but without being able to feel, he wasn’t able to fully commit to his girlfriend. Clearly that’s not enough to keep alive a relationship. 

If we were to judge if Data is man or machine, we could see that it was quite obvious that Data was acting like a machine, an extremely sophisticated one, but a machine, unable to empathise or resolve independently how to act.

Until the emotion chip came along, Data never perceived emotions as humans do. His programming suggested the actions or dialogue appropriate to the situation. Data was an experiment of Dr. Soong with a primary motivating factor: to learn and develop new subroutines.

Most interesting, in the episode Encounter at Farpoint, Riker asks Data if he considers himself superior to humans. His response “I am superior, Sir, in many ways, but I would give it all up to be human.”

A LESSON TO BE LEARNED

There is more than a philosophy lesson behind all of this. Data is not programmed to evolve, but to learn. Based on his own base programing, Data take the primary mission of the Enterprise to a new level. He continuously seeks out new experiences, knowledge, and life.

Data perfectly encapsulates the ideals set by the Federation, which makes the organizations fall from grace and subjugation of synthetic life even more impactful.

The very same organization Data fought so hard to uphold, wound up turning their backs and betraying his legacy and that of the Federation founders.

Star Trek: The Next Generation gave us all a taste of a wonderful future. What did Star Trek: Picard bring us? Well, thankfully, a story of redemption for all of its characters and the Federation as a whole!

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