StarTrek: The Next Generation’s Data

Introducingthe Character

Lieutenant CommanderData is the androidcharacteron the television seriesStar Trek: TheNext Generation, which aired on CBSfor178 episodes between 1987 and 1994. Thetelevision series also was madeinto several full-length motion pictures, including Star Trek:Generations(Carson, 1994), produced byParamount Pictures. Star Trek was originallycreated byvisionaryGeneRoddenberryand ran for 78 episodes on television in the early1960s. Although the original show (Star Trek: TOS—TheOriginal Series) was short-lived, its legacyhas endured to include numerous successful spinoff television series, movies, television cartoons, and books.In the original series,LeonardNimoyplayed thehalf-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock, who was forever atodds dueto his hybrid origins.In thattradition, inTheNext Generationseries,Lieutenant Commander Data functioned as a powerful vehicle forthediscoursesurroundingwhat it takes to betrulyhuman.Lieutenant Commander Data is continuallypresented with challenges that lead himand his crewmates to question the meaningof “beingreal.” In thefollowingbasic casesummaryand diagnostic impressions, wepictureData’s depressed mood, the effects ofamedical procedureon his memory, and his pressingconcerns about identityand faith.

Basic Case Summary

Identifying Information.Data is an android who identifies himself as biracial with both machine and human ethnicities. Heis thescienceofficeraboard theU.S.S.Enterprise spacevessel with the rank oflieutenant commander. He and his ship havebeenassigned to amission exploringdeep spaceforthe past 5years. Data’s appearance features paleskin, golden eyes, andship officer’s uniform.

Presenting Concern. Datawas referred to theship’s counselor, DeannaTroi, on the recommendationof Captain

Jean-LucPicard, whoreported that “Datahas beenactingverysluggish latelyandI’vegrown concerned about

his abilityto function effectivelyat his post.”TheCaptain reported thatforabout thepast 2 or 3 weeks, Data appears to“feel empty”much oftime; no longerseems veryinterested in intellectual joustingor visitingthe holodeck forvirtualrecreation in his offhours; seems to move slowlyabouthis everydaytasks; andhas mentioned several times that he has mused about“justshuttingoff.”Inaddition, the captain noted that Data has had largegaps in memoryever sinceaneural-networkprocedure was performed on him in theyear2324.

Background, Family Information, and Relevant History.Lieutenant Commander Data’s origins werequite differentfrom thoseofhis crewmates as hewas created ratherthan born.Intellinghis story, Data spokewith affection ofDr. NoonienSoong, abrilliant cybernetic evolutionistwith a specialtyin the creation ofsentient androids. Data was created in theyear 2314A.D.on the planet Omicron Theta byDr. Soong, whohad been performingcutting-edgeexperiments with the “positronicneural-network”—which was a near perfect duplicate ofthe human brainand nervous system. Dr. Soong’sachievement, the creation ofData alongwith his brother Lore, brought Dr. Soong much adulation butalso raised concerns that, accordingto theStarFleet panel of ethics, “Hewas triflingin theshadow ofGod.”
Accordingto health andmental health records, because Data wascreated, ratherthan born, hedid not haveachildhood in theconventional senseof theword.Availablefiles show that duringthatearlyperiod, his favoritestory, oneread to himbyDr. Soong’s wifeDr. JulianaTanna, wasPinocchio. Data was particularly enamored withPinocchio because, likethemythical wooden puppet, he too wanted to bereal. Datarecalled believingthat“As long asIcould storethe entirecompendium of humanknowledge and observehumans in all facets of their existence,Itoo could becomereal.”In theyear 2336, Data was deactivated byDr. Soongbecause hehad brokeninto the laboratoryto steal an“emotion chip,” a complex, highlyunstable microchipcapableof processingcomplexhuman emotions. Disappointed in his “son,”Dr. Soong stripped clean Data’s neural
networkso that he wouldforget his act of defianceand shipped himanew to Star Fleet Academytobe reprogrammed as a scienceofficer. Data appears tohavelostallpreviouslyremembered knowledgeregarding his earlier existence, previouslylearned information about thepursuit of thehuman experience,and learned material about his identityformation.

At Star Fleet, Data rose quicklythrough theranksbyvirtueof his vast intellect, abilityto translate any language, his fearlessness, andgreat strength. Hewon the admiration and respect of his fellow cadets and becamefast friends with GeordiLaForge, who would laterbe assigned with himto his firstcommission aboard the U.S.S.Enterprise, Star Fleet’s flagship. Dataenjoyed the camaraderieaboard theEnterprise, embracedeach opportunityto visitnew planets and new people in hopes that he could somehowlearnwhat it meant to betruly alive. Althoughalltracesof the earliertheft andreprogramming weretakenfrom Data’s memory, hehad
“neuralflashbacks” anddislocated fragments ofmemories ofthe storyof Pinocchio. Duringsuchmoments, Lieutenant CommanderData sought outthe companyof his friend,LaForge, and the twowould havelong conversations about thedifferences between man and machine. Heoften asked his friend ifhethought that “I would ever be real?”
On the15th anniversaryofData’s successful reprogramming, Captain Picard received an orderfrom Star Fleet to return his scienceofficerforreprogrammingand redeployment on a deep spacesciencelab.Ina bold act of defiance, Captain Picard argued that Data was not real and, instead amachine, thepropertyof the U.S.S.Enterprise. This came as a surpriseto Datawho always considered thecaptain to be his friend; however, Data had failed to realizethat thecaptain’seffortsto dehumanizehimwere reallydesigned to keep himaboard the Enterprise.In a courttrial aboard theship’s holodeck, avirtual platform, Data’s StarFleet attorneyargued that byvirtueof havingearned the StarFleet Command Decoration for Gallantry,aMedal ofHonorwith Clusters, theLegend ofHonor, and the Star of Cross, as wellas byvirtueofbefriendingthecrew of the Enterprise, hewasas much human as anyone else.Data lost the battle, but won thewar,andhewasdeclared human bythe virtual tribunal andgiven his choiceof whereto serve.He chose to remain aboard theEnterprise as a memberof its crew.Although Datainitiallythought that this was thebest decision, hewas notconvinced
bythe tribunal’s rulingthat he was indeed humanand began to experiencedifficultycarryingout his daily functions without feeling what crewmate GeordiLa Forgelater noted to be“sadness.”Unfamiliar with this strange emotional experience, Data welcomed thevisit with CounselorTroi.

Problemand Counseling History to Date.Data punctuallypresented himself to Counselor Troi. On arrival at the interview, Datadid appear to bemovingand thinkingsluggishly; heagreed that latelyhehas been ruminatingabout shuttingoff but has resisted histemptation to act on theseself-harmingideations. He

expressed concern that “I’ve feltsimilarlyslow before, but never likethis, and ithas beengoingonfor almost 3 human weeks now.”Heexpressed concern that his diminished abilityto concentrate, think, andactdecisively might harm his effectiveness in his assigned post.Further, because his energylevels seemed low, hewas worried thatLaForge and other crewmates wouldabandon himsincehe“justcannot dragmyself tothe

holodeck or therecreation chamberto relaxwith them.” Data said that if he knewwhattheexperienceof human crying was like, hemightengagein it forthwith. On the topic ofmemory, Data candidlyadmitted that theneural procedureperformed onhimleft him with the inabilityto recallpreviouslyavailable information. Hebelieved this was “greatlyinterferingwith myself-advancement and veryworrisome.”Headded that he alsowas using excessiveneural energytryingto “solvesome important questions about whoIam and whatIbelieve about

God and the universe.”He expressed adesireto talk about thesetwo issues in counselingbut said, “I don’t

know ifIhavethe energyorinner resources.”

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