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Humans vs. Computers in Star Trek

by Critical Commons Manager

Airing in early March 1968, less than a month before Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey appeared in theaters, "The Ultimate Computer" offered a deliberate and insistent, humanist critique of computing. Unlike HAL, The ship's "duo-tronic" (i.e., binary) computer on Star Trek was never conceive as an AI and was never even given a name. Even in "The Ultimate Computer," when a newly invented (but still not anthropomorphized) computer, the "M5" is given total control of all ship's systems and begins to exhibit erratic and murderous behavior, it turns out the computer's inventor, Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshall), encoded the computer with his own (as it turns out) unstable emotional profile. The M5, which represents a next-generation "multi-tronic" computer capable of integrating and maximizing the efficiency of all the ship's systems, threatens to render the starship crew unnecessary. As the episode progresses, the exact set of labor anxieties that arose in Desk Set (1957), reappear as Kirk agonizes over the possibility that this new computer will make his job obsolete. In the end, it is the usual failings of computation that bring about the computer's downfall -- a lack of context awareness and human intuition coupled with an overly literal interpretation of its programming -- and it is Kirk's distinctly human intuition that saves the day.

Verbal sparring between McCoy and Spock over computers

The second season Star Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer" includes more agonizing than usual over the relationship between humans and computers

from Star Trek S2E24 "The Ultimate Computer" (1968)
Creator: Gene Roddenberry / John Meredyth Lucas
Distributor: Paramount
Posted by Critical Commons Manager
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