The Star Trek universe is home to all kinds of sentient life. The various humanoids that populate the galaxy are only the beginning. There are also the members of the enigmatic Q Continuum, giant crystalline beings, spaceborne animals, energy spirits, and a living nebula or two. But what about the androids, holoprograms, and computers of the galaxy?
Advances in the field of artificial intelligence produce artificial intelligences that are more and more lifelike and capable of things that would never be expected from the computers of previous generations. Even technology not typically treated as actual beings, such as the Enterprise D computer, have demonstrated the ability to develop a mind of their own with repeated use. The status of artificial beings such as Lieutenant Commander Data or Voyager’s EMH have been the central conflict in multiple episodes.
While Data and the other Soong androids are a unique case, there was nothing particularly exceptional about the EMH on Voyager until prolonged activation and accumulated experiences as the ship’s doctor caused him to expand beyond his original programming. If the Doctor could become a sentient being, is every hologram capable of the same transformation? Holoprograms such as the Doctor or Vic Fontaine appear to be the exception rather than the rule. What would the effects on life in the Federation change if every holoprogram and computer had the same rights as any other sentient being? How is sentience in an artificial being determined, if it is possible at all? That is the question we’d like to pose to you this week.
Do you think androids, holograms, and computers should be considered sentient beings?