The distinction between computers, machines, synths, holograms and sentient A.I.

Discussion in 'Star Trek: Picard' started by Rahul, Mar 19, 2020.

  1. Rahul

    Rahul Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I started out liking "Picard" very much, but I have become increasingly underwhelmed with it's main stor arc. Mostly because - like most mainstream (action-focused) media about A.I. - it's doing the very beginner-mistake of not differentiating between it's different types of A.I.

    Somehow, it's always a humanoid A.I. going rogue, and always in the "destroy all humans"-kind of way, mostly as a type of pre-destination paradox, where the robots have to counter the humans destroying the robots "out of fear" in the first place.

    Star Trek had throughout it's history it's fair share of evil computers taking over - hell, that happened in like every 3rd TOS episode. But I think this series makes two major mistakes:
    1. It tries to be all high-stakes
    2. it treats all A.I. the same and doesn't go into the details
    I liked it in classic Trek, when the "A.I. gone mad" was clearly motivated by the type of A.I. in the first place - the M5 computer took it's battle situation too seriously, the exocomps were super intelligent tools, the Ent-D's computer put too much effort into Dr. Moriaty to be a worthwhile foe for Data, the civilisations in "A taste of Armageddon", "The Apple", "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky" all had good reassons to implement a A.I. controlled society in the first place, before it all went wrong.

    The robocalypse in PIC feels very much like every other machine uprising in any other SF B-movie. But even within it's own logic, it's (at least to me) quite unclear about which type of A.I. it's actually talking about the whole time, because it muddies them all up:
    1. Why are "synths" - sentient beings - used for slave labour work on Mars?
    2. Why are holograms - clearly capable of A.I. as well (see: the Doctor) - not treated like synths as well?
    3. What's the differentiation between "synths" and super-computers like holodecks or ship's main computers?
     
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  2. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Holograms were used as slave labor. The difference appears to be the ability to dismiss them at will.

    Beyond that, AI is utilized so inconsistently across Trek that the broad brush technique is unsurprising, if a bit irritating.
     
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  3. Unimatrix Q

    Unimatrix Q Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Part of them were. The EMH mark 1's were used as miners, according to "Author, Author".
     
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  4. Tarek71

    Tarek71 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Hard to say. Soji seemed more like a Replicant from Blade Runner. Not sure how these bio-synths differ from the augments. Is a 3-D printed bio-organism a "synth"? Computer AI, Holo-people, cyborgs, robots, etc. Not sure how they are categorized here. Does synthetic mean the building materials, or is it any life created by a non-naturally occurring process? Composition or process?
     
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  5. Dale Sams

    Dale Sams Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I assume the synths on mars were not sentient.
     
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  6. Mark 2000

    Mark 2000 Captain Captain

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    I will never, for the life of me, understand the whole sentient hologram thing. What immediately turned me off of Voyager was that the Doctor had, on arrival, everything Data craved for 7 years and never got. Self awareness, emotion, desire, and no positronic brain necessary.
     
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  7. F. King Daniel

    F. King Daniel Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    IIRC, Voyager's EMH was modified so it would continue to learn, possibly making him unique compared to the EMH Mk 1's mining dilithium.

    The Synths at Utopia Planitia had to be sentient, or else the story has no gravitas. We saw in the S01E09's mind meld that Starfleet has loads of syth types in 2286, with arrowhead logos on their chests. I tend to assume that post-Nemesis, B-4 was put through the tests Data avoided after "Measure of a Man" and the Synth explosion began.
     
  8. Dale Sams

    Dale Sams Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Case against the mars synths being sentient: SF just keeps an army of sentient slave labor on ice even after Picard won Data's case in court?

    Case for: Lore never even got a day in court! They just dissasembled him. Also i just thought of something. Was B4 dissasembled after the ban on synths?? JFC.
     
  9. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    That ship actually sailed early in TNG S2 with "Elementary, Dear Data." After that, it would be unbelievable that 24th century Federation scientists wouldn't realize that their holographic technology, when coupled with standard starship computer systems, has great potential to develop AI. And that episode was literally a demonstration that holographic AI would be "capable of defeating Data," however a starship computer might interpret those terms.
     
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  10. Mark 2000

    Mark 2000 Captain Captain

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    I never really bought that premise either. And, as I've said of other threads and subjects having one silly episode is one thing. Having a whole show based on the same silliness is a lot less forgivable.
     
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  11. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Yup. Star trek has done it before and its neither shocking nor offensive to me.
     
  12. ITDUDE

    ITDUDE Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    A500s that were used on Mars were never sentient. Let’s make that clear.
     
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  13. SolarisOne

    SolarisOne Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    "Synths" are quite obviously androids, whether the kind used on Mars, or more biologically-oriented ones like Soji.
    /thread
     
  14. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    For me, one of the overarching problems with "Elementary, Dear Data" is how unaware the chief engineer of the NCC-1701-D is of the capabilities of the ship's systems.

    To digress a bit into the discussion of real world computer science, a reasonably robust and capable natural language to machine code compiler suite is an important milestone in artificial intelligence (and Turing-complete computer languages) that we are likely to see developed in the next few decades, at most. As an important target for computer research, this has been understood for decades.

    What Geordi did when he expressed the parameters of the simulation that created the Moriarty holographic character was essentially use natural language to describe a computer algorithm (by stating an essential feature that it was to have, namely to be capable of defeating Data in the implicit sleuth game) and then let the ship's computer execute the conversion into machine code, in accordance with the type of toolkit described in the preceding paragraph. As a Starfleet engineer trained in starship computer interfaces worthy to serve on the Federation's flagship [sic], he should have understood fully the implications of what he was asking the ship's computer to do.

    The fact that what the ship did with the holodeck was a surprise was an implausible conceit to justify the inciting incident for the story. They dumbed down the characters to serve as viewer surrogates, which wasn't the first time that kind of thing had been done, and it wasn't the last it would be done either. This represents a big problem with the episode.

    In terms of the creation of a simulated objects with structure, complexity, and functionality rivaling and surpassing those of real-world objects, I have less of an issue. This is the direction of the future and a worthwhile topic for science fiction. A tool capable of generating prototype objects that have been specified in natural language is basically what the holodeck is. (Note—Both the best as well as the so-called best holodeck episodes dealt with the topic of reality vs simulation in the holodeck. "Ship in a Bottle," the sequel to "Elementary, Dear Data" had the frightening moment when Picard is astonished to learn that he'd not realized that they were still on the holodeck (such a scene was a long time coming). VOY's "Real Life" was able to self-referentially critique the default prohibition against interpersonal conflict in the Star Trek formula itself. "The Big Goodbye" confronted the issue of real vs imaginary right out of the gate.)

    YMMV.
     
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  15. Beckerjr

    Beckerjr Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    This is still the biggest plot hole of the series. Soji is a wholly new thing and not just a really smart robot aka Data. They have never done even a cursory explanation or look into how the hell Soji actually functions/works. Is she as you say some sort of Replicant type being. A cyborg of some sort. They just gloss over this huge thing.
     
  16. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    1. Picard needed a labor force to save the Romulans. He was a proponent of artificial life to begin with. So the labor force was his hobby horse, a solution for killing two birds. And then it went on a stampede, and killed a lot more.

    But slave labor? There were biological humanoids in red coveralls there, too, apparently doing the exact same jobs. And for the exact same zero wages as far as we can tell. Sure, they ate, slept, and joked. But the androids didn't need to, so their treatment can hardly be considered derogatory or anything.

    2. Artificial life is not a bogeyman as such. The Federation is by and large comfortable with it, and couldn't exist without it. But it comes in far more forms than biological life, and that's what biological folks are extremely uncomfortable with. Which is why Picard and Soong both faced an uphill struggle with their machine men. And why both apparently thought it a splendid idea to make the machine men appear unthreatening, that is, a bit simple and silly. Which led to them getting a cute nickname, too: they could never have existed had they not been given the Synth label.

    Holograms are not forced into the simplistic Synth molds, but come in the whole range of forms: they can be supersmart godlike beings with a thousand bodies and fifty overlapping eternal lives, or then mindless projections that just make damn good coffee. This is possible because they exist largely out of sight, their "natural form" being that of a supercomputer in its giant FTL-field cylinder somewhere. It's pretty plausible for humans and other humanoids to refuse to see any connection to Picard's machine men there.

    3. One of convenience. Synth is the specific sort of machine man Picard forced upon the society. Data never was one, because his role in the society was not the same. Except nowadays he probably retroactively is. Synth is not a catchall term, except for those yellow-eyed monsters who killed Mars. And Dahl and Soji aren't Synths - their oxymoronic identity is Advanced Synths, a completely different type of machine existence and apparently a project unrelated to Picard's Synths in any meaningful way.

    I love the spectrum of ideas and attitudes inherent in this portrayal. It's Asimov's Frankenstein Complex finally done right: androids being a technologically trivial concept that faces fierce resistance and has to be tried anew again and again, while true AI creeps forward in the background, unnoticed by most.

    Having a vast and ancient universe of diverse machine life as the setting for all this is only plausible and expected, and indeed awaited...

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  17. Tarek71

    Tarek71 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Well, I have come to expect that. Harsher critics of Kurtzman say this is a feature of anything where he has any say in. Many, multiple internally unexplained, unexamined plot points that do not stand up to even the smallest, cursory scrutiny. Ie, he is a lazy, sloppy, dumb writer/showrunner/franchise runner. Not sure you can put this all on Kurtzman, but certainly this tendency is evident in Disco and PIC.

    On this issue, it is clear that even if Soji is composed entirely of biomatter, superhuman speed and strength cannot be achieved without making easily detectable changes to human physiology. Either bone, tendon and muscle tissue has to be far denser than in humans and/or constructed from materials with far superior performance and load bearing capability. Normal Human bone would snap and tissue would tear under these conditions. As you have indicated, no effort of any kind has been made to cover any of this.
     
  18. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    What does that mean?

    Trek never explained Spock, or phasers, or the Federation, or the Prime Directive. These concepts simply exist; they may at some point obtain a number of characteristics, but they never get any "covering", there's no "scrutiny" of the things that may leave us a bit puzzled. None of PIC is different there. What we get is what we get. It's the amazing future, it's not supposed to be understood by us stupid ancients. It never was.

    It's not even as if Trek would be particularly lazy, sloppy or dumb. It's that all televised entertainment is. Scifi just has more of this concept stuff, while cop shows stumble on more mundane issues like character histories and motivations, or travel times, or distribution of information, the usual stumbling blocks. And cop shows have fewer excuses for those, for we know how fast a police cruiser runs, while we aren't entitled to knowing how fast a Starfleet cruiser does.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  19. Tarek71

    Tarek71 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Timo,

    That is 100% false. And you know it. No, all TV is not dumb, lazy and stupid. All plots in all shows are not equally bad, or all with no explanation. Likewise, all novels, short stories and plays are not the same. They arent all dumb, silly or poorly explained. I dont understand your tendency to defend Trek no matter what. As if it is your team, and you just have to carry water for it and no criticism of it is ever justified.
     
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  20. matthunter

    matthunter Admiral Admiral

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    He's responding to your specific use of "they didn't explain how Soji has super-strength despite having organic bone and muscle" as an "unexamined plot point". It isn't, because it's not a plot point unless we're in a show about how you create super-beings. It's a technical point we don't need to know.

    Soji is a super-being. That's not what's relevant to the plot, which is about finding out why the Romulans are trying to kill her and where she came from. We don't need it explaining HOW she is super-strong, just that she is and it's because she's a synth. As Timo says, that's ALL we need to know for the plot to work, the same way we are told a transporter converts matter to energy and moves it long distances but aren't given the specifics.