*** (3 stars out of 5)
We'll never know, since the particle fountain orbiting Tyrus VII is the story now. It's a mine in space! The latest thing, possibly. It seems unwieldy, impractical, and this one is subject to unwarranted explosions.
A common industrial servomechanism has been modified by the lovely and lumpy-foreheaded Dr. Farallon into 'Exocomps'. Their built-in replicators make whatever tools are needed, and also builds new circuit pathways to mimic learning.
Probably not coincidentally, Nammo from the cartoon Dirty Pair is a repair machine very much along the same lines: like an adorable metal football with feet.
It's getting pretty smart when it 'malfunctions' at exactly the right time to avoid an explosion. Farallon sighs and throws it in the garbage.
Data decides it is actually self-determining and therefore: Johnny Five Alive!
Trying to explain how the bots are new life and thus worth seeking out, Data claims to Crusher that he does not grow or reproduce. But we've seen him grow a beard and build a kid. That each was a horrific tragedy doesn't mean they didn't happen.
Farallon is pissed that Data wants to emancipate her metal minions. Even when it seems to pass Geordi's tests of self-preservation. They could take this show on the road: Farallon's Hover Toasters! They fly down Pipes! They fail to Explode!
Since we never see or hear from the Exocomps again, I have to assume that either Farallon fitted them with cute little bow ties and they got jobs in upper management, or they went on to a thrilling career as doorstops.
"The Quality of Life" is asking a good question: when our machines get smart enough to count as alive, are we going to notice if they still look like Nammo, Skeets or R2-D2? Or will they have to look like us? Also, would you make an action figure out of a robot that doesn't really do anything?