rethinking Data

Discussion in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' started by Captrek, Mar 20, 2011.

  1. Captrek

    Captrek Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I think the character of Data was poorly conceived. The idea behind it was simple enough: TOS showed us the half-human/half-Vulcan Spock who is proud of acting logically and not having (or at least not acting on) emotions, so in TNG they wanted to explore the flip side with a character who wants to experience emotions but can’t.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t think it through much further than that. Data’s desire to understand and experience emotion, and his frustration at being unable to do so, appear to be emotions, belying the very premise they were trying to establish. Worse, neither the writers nor Spiner appeared to have any idea why Data wanted to be more like humans. The first time we meet him he’s pathetically jealous that humans can whistle better than he can, and we never get any clue why. (FWIW, Data, I’m a human and I can’t whistle. It’s not such a big deal.)


    So here’s my idea of a better way the character could have been imagined:

    When we first meet him, he is logical, efficient, and emotionless. Some time in Season 1 he is in a situation like Spock in The Galileo Seven, where his failure to understand emotion leads to him mishandling both his crew and the life forms threatening them, resulting in a failed mission and some dead officers.

    As a result of this and other experiences, he concludes he needs to understand emotions better in order to be effective in his role as a Starfleet officer. At first, he studies emotion as an outsider, approaching it as a logical problem of studying emotional beings and deciphering how stimulus relates to response. This way he gains some insight, but it only gets him so far, because the subject is too complex for that kind of analysis to explain it thoroughly. He comes to the conclusion that he will never really understand emotions unless he experiences them, and sets himself to that task.

    That, unlike what we actually got, would have been interesting and made some sense.


    Not that the TNG writers could have pulled it off. Their “exploration” of this aspect of Data’s character consisted of little more than a bunch of scenes of Data making puppy dog eyes asking Picard to explain emotions to him, and Picard giving answers that were profoundly lacking in profundity. They painted by numbers, and did it poorly. :sigh:
     
  2. M'rk son of Mogh

    M'rk son of Mogh Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I don't see why wanting to better oneself can only come from conflict and/or something negative.

    Data, more human than he realizes, simply wants to be more. And in the TNG universe, that works perfectly.

    Also it sounds like you're trying to add too much of a continuous arc for a series that was sold in syndication and, by rights, wasn't really allowed the luxury of complex arcs.
     
  3. CaptainStoner

    CaptainStoner Knuckle-dragging TNZ Denizen Admiral

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    That Data is a total robot is not the premise, even if Data himself states he feels no emotion. But if the premise is that Data, created by humans and having a human experience, will develop a sense of humanism and emotion beyond his programming, then it makes sense.
    Again I think you misunderstand the (admittedly evolving) premise. It's because he already is more like humans than he knows. His intrinsic curiosity is one of these qualities.
    That's a cool story arc, if a bit paint by the numbers :vulcan:
    To you.
    Now you're just ignoring the show to belabor your point.
    They did PBTN. In some ways you have to. For me it's the Lore stories that are painfully cliche and PBTN, even worse when they essentially do it again with Sela.

    A Data character more along the lines of Schwarzenegger's character in T2 seems to be what you're thinking. Either is a valid exploration. I like what we got with Data with his apparent contradictions.
     
  4. Cakemixo

    Cakemixo Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    I would accept this behavior from a first year Cadet Data during a simulation. Data's work usually doesn't get him missions that could turn out like this. He is the Ops manager so his main job is to stay on board and schedule things. When he does work as a science officer, he is usually with a team when he goes to the planet. Starfleet does not play into his weaknesses to prevent stuff like that from happening.

    I think he came to that conclusion years ago, but I also think he started back further than this. He thrives on talking. The Vulcans (who I would guess would be the standard in logical behavior/minds) say much with few words. I think at Data's core, he is a social butterfly that is expressed strangly by lack of emotions and no social skills. Back when he was first activated, he had no job functions, no awareness of emotions. He may have been sitting in some sort of 10Forward and watching the others. In Rightful Heir he described being told he was an android and instead believing he was a person. The other persons in the room are eating, so Data imiates the table manners. His lack of culture with other androids ment the prevalent humans became his adoptive culture. He experimented with behavoir and with time stumbled upon emotions.


    Like I said, Data is social, and the better he got at it, (and the less angry Picard got as the seasons went on) the more his adoptive culture replaced what he didn't have when he was first found. Data kind made Picard his active father figure. I personally found Picard's answers to Data's questions philosophical.

    Sorry about the rambling post. It's 5am here am I am going to BED!
     
  5. iguana_tonante

    iguana_tonante Admiral Admiral

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    Then how do you know you are human? :shifty:
     
  6. Crewman47

    Crewman47 Commodore Newbie

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    I think the contradiction with Data and his experience with emotions is the idea that he spent around 3 or 4 years at Starfleet Academy and possibly 5 or 6 more years on a field post somewhere before getting a LtCmdr position on the Enterprise before realising that he needed to do something about it. Even if he was treated as just an Android at the Academy or on a previous posting, he may have had one friend like Geordie that could've tried to show him how to act in certain situations?
     
  7. Mojochi

    Mojochi Commodore Commodore

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    Actually, Data has been in Starfleet for 22 years, prior to his 1st command in Redemption pt 2. He enrolled in the academy a year before Beverly Crusher, according to the basic profiles shown in Conundrum. So he's already been in starfleet for like 18 years when we first see him, and right from the start of the show, he has come to acquire the rank of Lt. Cmdr, & holds 3rd in command status on board the flagship of the fleet

    You can't get to those levels whilst still being a raw automaton. The point of the character was that major development has already taken place, just like all the characters

    The development the OP suggests very likely did take place..... already. Now we are onto this next stage, where it's more of an esteem issue. Due to his lack of a solid reference base, he is unwilling or unable to recognize his own, albeit limited, emotional awareness

    He just doesn't have an emotional state comparable to humans, and since he was made by one, to resemble one, and lives amongst them, he & others wrongfully presume he has no emotional awareness, which I see as having never been the case, even if characters professed otherwise, & despite the fact that he eventually obtains more complex programming, which gives him fully developed human emotions.

    One of my favorites moments is in Data's Day when he states that if he had emotions, he would be rather nervous about going to the neutral zone, & then notices his own fingers nervously tapping. That's a moment where even Data notices his own physical manifestations of apprehension. The show is loaded with those kinds of moments. I can't say if it was always the planned intention, but it was the overall intention nonetheless

    Ira Graves had it spot on. Data is the Tin Man, always had a heart. Yes, he is the absolute opposite of the Spock character. Spock is a being of overwhelming emotion, beyond that which humans possess, and has learned to suppress it into a near absence of emotion, whilst everyone around him never truly believes he is emotionless. Contrarily, Data is a being who has such an understated emotional awareness compared to humans, that everyone, including himself see & profess it as a near absence of emotion, all the while, he seeks to attain the emotional level intrinsic to humanity, never noticing his own intrinsic emotional awareness

    The only way the premise the OP suggests would work is if Data wasn't even a Starfleet officer on the show. Only then could the story of an automaton developing into a fully realized being be told, and how is that going to regularly tie into the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise? Not very easily imho
     
  8. Captrek

    Captrek Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Maybe it doesn’t have to come from conflict, but it has to come from somewhere. Where does an android get the desire to better oneself? More to the point, how does an android come to the conclusion that better=human?

    Data wants to have an emotional makeup more like the humans. The humans don’t want to have an emotional makeup more like Data. Everybody knows that human is better.

    Well, why?

    It doesn’t have to be what I suggested, that was just one idea. My idea is that it’s something the series should have addressed, and never really did.

    I lack the unnatural skin tone and super strength of a Soongian android, so I’ve ruled that out. I don’t know what else I might be if not human. Do you have an idea?

    Good observation.

    If so many years elapse between Data’s activation and his assignment to the Enterprise, and he doesn’t really start trying to emulate humans until that assignment, then something about his new situation or an event around that time in his life starts him down this path. What is it? The series never really addressed the question.
     
  9. iguana_tonante

    iguana_tonante Admiral Admiral

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    Well, the "Juliana Tainer" simulacrum showed that a Soon-type android need not to have unnatural skin or super-strength... ;)
     
  10. Captrek

    Captrek Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Maybe I really am a Replicant. I never have taken the Voight-Kampff test myself. :shrug:
     
  11. Cakemixo

    Cakemixo Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    shhhhhh we won't tell anybody. ;)
     
  12. datalogan

    datalogan Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    I always felt a bit disappointed in TNG for not revealing more about the backstory of each of the characters, most notably Data. Worf and Riker were the most developed, with us meeting family and knowing about previous Starfleet vessels, etc. Even with Picard we don't know much exect slight glipse at childhood (Family), Academy indescresions, and time on Stargazer. We know nothing about Picard between the destruction of the Stargazer and him getting the Enterprise-D.
    The book, The Buried Age, by Christopher L. Bennett, went a long way toward a detailed timeline for Picard during those years, including how he meet Data, who was still a LT. and just a glorrified records keeper after over 15 yrs in Startfleet.

    It's always been my belief that Data had a pretty mundane career in Starfleet for years, possibly right up until just before Encounter at Farpoint, when he met someone in Starfleet (possibly Picard) that saw that he was capable of much more than just simple science and records keeping and gave him a chance at command.j
     
  13. sonak

    sonak Vice Admiral Admiral

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    "the buried age" made a clever effort at explaining the inconsistency between Data having had a long Starfleet career by the time he was on Ent-D and the lack of social skills and lack of familiarity with language, customs, etc. that he often showed.

    But it didn't work for me, because I didn't buy that Starfleet would allow fifteen-year lieutenants to have been nothing but recordskeepers for most of their career.
     
  14. zar

    zar Captain Captain

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    Dude, it's Star Trek. One of the major themes throughout (including the TNG pilot, where Data is introduced) is answering that very question: how humanity (or at least the version of it normally depicted there) is something to aspire to. Why would Data/Spiner himself need to spell it out for us?
     
  15. sonak

    sonak Vice Admiral Admiral

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    well to be fair, Spock didn't aspire to be human. He preferred the Vulcan path.
     
  16. CoveTom

    CoveTom Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    ^ How do we know he didn't start trying to emulate humans until that point? How do we know that when he was first activated, he wasn't far more primitive than we saw him in Encounter at Farpoint. Maybe he was very robotic in nature and only spoke in a mechanical monotone. Maybe he originally sounded like the computer from TOS. Perhaps he was like Lal in The Offspring. The point is that just because Data is childlike and naive in Encounter at Farpoint doesn't mean he just started his journey of trying to become more human.
     
  17. HaventGotALife

    HaventGotALife Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I think the point was to show that Data had innate programming to become human. I think he succeeded in Generations and became just another member of the crew in the movies after that.

    That being said, think about where computers were in 1986 and the challenge we face in robotics now. We want robots that are the most efficient us we can be. But there's a human factor that we haven't learned how to create yet. We can give them encyclopedic knowledge, but we can't teach them to make decisions. When they do there is no apprehension or fear of failure. We want robots that think and act like us and they don't face the same obsticles we do which is why they don't perform.

    I think the character should've been obsessed with understanding emotion, not experiencing it.

    Again, I am happy to be here. People have opinions and aren't afraid to have an opinion.
     
  18. RAMA

    RAMA Admiral Admiral

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    I disagree, he was supposed to evolve and DID in the series...in order to attempt some of the same evolving in the movies, they actually devolved him slightly...but he certainly did grow as a character during the show.

    RAMA
     
  19. zar

    zar Captain Captain

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    The existence of Lore as a predecessor makes that quite unlikely though.
     
  20. Alrik

    Alrik Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    ^

    Depends. If there is even a shred of truth in what Lore had to say, the colonists wanted a 'less human' android.

    As to why would Data aspire to be more human? He was surrounded by them, his 'father and mother' were human, plus he held the memories of the human colonists within him. And that's just scratching the surface.

    EDIT:

    Thought of something else. It is most likely that he was programmed that way. Why else would Soong have worked so long and hard to create an emotion chip for Data? Why would he have built him with a dream program? I believe he was designed to evolve and find his own version of humanity.