Sunday, January 15, 2012

Elementary, Dear Data

**** (4 stars out of 5)
Geordi La Forge and Data head for the holodeck to play Watson and Holmes! You know, it's a real Cushing job they've got, with a whole Cumberbatch of adventures to have. Aw, c'mon, throw me a Rathbone, here, I'm tryin' to entertain you people! Don't bring me Downey.

Speaking of tired, Geordi tires of how quickly Data can solve a Holmes mystery he's already read. Can't blame the man. Replicate a bowler hat, figure out a cravat, and then follow Data around writing down everything he says? What kind of RPG fun is that for a self-respecting nerd?

Pulaski claims (on the basis of having seen Data now and again while insulting him and belittling his abilities) that Data has no capacity to solve a mystery he hasn't read. And, to be fair, even the Conan Doyle mash-up the computer offers as a challenge is too simple for Data. The third try is even more of a cock-up: Geordi asks the computer to create a mystery with an opponent capable of defeating Data. Not Sherlock, DATA. Oops.

The computer gives Prof. James Moriarty the equivalent of Data's cognitive power, draining a tad extra energy. (If consciousness is so easy to accidentally bestow, does that not mean the ship's computer would also be conscious?)

Moriarty kidnaps Pulaski and begins to seize information from the computer library in exactly the way that holodeck characters don't. And, as is becoming abundantly clear, the holodeck Mortality Failsafe is usually the first bit to fail. (I suspect the Drama Subroutines put out an interference pattern.)

I got a belly laugh from Geordi's in-depth, detailed description of a machine he could rig up to destroy all the holomatter on the holodeck. When Picard asks if the hostage would be safe, La Forge admits it will destroy living flesh as well. He's just so caught up in the engineering that I think he wanted to try it anyway. If Picard hadn't asked, would we have gotten Beverly back?

Moriarty is smart enough to see that he is a construct of holographic matter. And to argue that he is cognitive and therefore ALIVE. I'm inclined to believe him because he has already grown beyond his origins. Although he was written as a villain, he asks not for wealth or a kingdom, not even a helicopter and a pizza, but releases his hostage and merely asks to be allowed to keep living.

Picard agrees, but there is no technology yet to allow him to leave the holodeck. Instead, the Captain saves Moriarty's program against that possible future time.

"Elementary, Dear Data" is very cool. Mostly light-hearted, and who doesn't like the variety offered by the holodeck stories? Questions about artificial sentience raised here will continue to arise, probably until and beyond the point when humans and AIs meet for realsies.

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