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Topic: Suspension Of Disbelief VS Entertainment Post ReplyPost New Topic
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 23 August 2017 at 11:44pm | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Thanks to Netflix, I've been watching "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship In A Bottle". Major spoilers to follow.

In "Elementary, Dear Data", a holodeck simulation of Professor Moriarty becomes self-aware. Geordi and Data have been playing "Sherlock Holmes" and "Watson" in various tales, but Data has been solving the mysteries too quickly. Geordi instructs the computer to create a character capable of challenging Data. The computer does that - literally. The simulated Moriarty progresses beyond his original programming, becoming self-aware. Moriarty eventually becomes de-activated.

In "Ship In A Bottle", Moriarty is re-activated. He is self-aware still. He leaves the holodeck (or so it seems). Eventually, as part of a ruse by Picard and crew, he and a lover go on a journey away from the Enterprise, although they are really part of a holodeck memory cube. They think they have left the Enterprise. They haven't, but from their perspective, they have. They never left the holodeck.

As far as my topic title, this is an episode that raises interesting questions.

Suspension of disbelief is fine. I enjoyed the episodes for what they are. The performance by Daniel Davis as Moriarty was touching. One felt sorry for him. On an entertainment level, and with suspension of disbelief, it's good sci-fi.

However, the suspension of disbelief is important: perhaps I am over-thinking it, but exactly how did he become self-aware? It never made sense. How did he progress beyond his programming? How can a careless comment by Geordi result in a simulated character becoming far more than his original programming? I confess I know zero about artificial intelligence.

It feels like a leap. A big one. A leap that tests the limits of suspension of disbelief. I mean, could a very advanced toaster become sentient by accident? Could a careless act by a Microsoft employee result in Cortana (the virtual assistant) going beyond her programming and becoming self-aware? 

"Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship In A Bottle" have always entertained me - and I wish that Daniel Davis had won some sort of award for his performances in both episodes. But I'm a curious soul, one who has tried to take an interest in science - and one who likes to look at the science in a sci-fi film/TV episode. 

On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is that a holographic character, in the real world, could ever progress beyond their original programming? Perhaps I really should enjoy these episodes for what they are. Maybe I am over-thinking it all. But I thought it might make for a good discussion. 
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John Byrne
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Posted: 24 August 2017 at 12:36am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

Self-awareness isn't really the problem. Assuming a computer program that literally learns the same way a human brain does, self awareness seems inevitable -- especially if we are talking a program based on Professor Moriarty. (After all, self-awareness in humans may all be illusion anyway.)

The problem I had with "Ship in a Bottle" was the holodeck being able to create the infinite variables of a whole galaxy, including all THAT intelligent life.

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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 24 August 2017 at 12:38am | IP Logged | 3 post reply

(After all, self-awareness in humans may all be illusion anyway.)

***

That scares me. ;-)

As for the holodeck, that's a topic in itself. I've never quite got to grips with the science behind it - including the point you just made.
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Warren Scott
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Posted: 24 August 2017 at 2:25am | IP Logged | 4 post reply

I've noticed the holodeck stories always worked best for me if I didn't think too hard about them. If I did, then I imagined them walking around in circles, seeing things and interacting with people that aren't really there. They're best when treated as a light episode not to be taken too seriously.
But the premises of the Moriarty episodes force you to think about them seriously. When I saw the first one, it was a bit jarring because I had been "going along for the ride" up to that point and because it seemed they completely forgot Moriarty was evil (unless the holo-people are playing roles as much as the NG crew are). But Daniel Davis' performance kept me involved. Was he in anything else besides "The Nanny"?
I missed the follow-up episode.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 24 August 2017 at 2:41am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

Of course, the Doctor on VOYAGER was the next step, in that he was a self-aware hologram who was a member of the main cast.
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 24 August 2017 at 9:53am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

ITEM: Seems to me that if the computer can A) create a self-aware character, and B) run a starship simultaneously with all the intricacies of running that self-aware character, then that computer has to be self-aware already. TNG never delved into this (or at least not that I saw) because realistically, they have a fleet of starship sized slaves, far more capable than anyone in Starfleet... even Mr. Data.

ITEM: In "Ship in a Bottle", Captain Picard and Data find out they're trapped on the holodeck because they toss one of their own combadges and it "bounces" off one of the holodeck walls. But it shouldn't... the holodeck accounts for every action its participants do, so the combadge should have just landed a few feet away.

Now, had they tossed it and then used it, e.g., "Picard to Data", it would possibly have beeped at their feet where it fell, as well as where it "landed" - but that seems a little obvious to me. Which means that the episode focused far too much on the technobabble.

ITEM: It's been asked before... WHY WOULD YOU HAVE AN ENTERTAINMENT THAT COULD TRAP YOU? Hell, after the first time it happened (a Dixon Hill episode, I believe), I would have had the chief engineer put in a kill switch or an explosive circuit so that the damnable thing could be subject to an emergency shutdown. It not only had the potential to trap the captain in an emergency, but it did it... TWICE.

ITEM: I know others have pointed it out, but Moriarty appeared on more episodes of Star Trek than he did in Doyle's stories. :) And that actor was a ton of talent... I enjoyed watching him very much,.

ITEM: I recommend "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert A. Heinlein for a superb treatment of a computer that gains self-awareness. Please note that, while it is a Hugo Award winner, it's not an easy read; the narrator, the lead human in the book, speaks in a pidgin language that takes a little bit of translating. At this late date, it reminds me a tiny bit of reading Shakespeare... you'll get it eventually, but it's a bit quirky.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 24 August 2017 at 11:23am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

First time I saw a holodeck story on TNG I was immediately put in mind of the GILLIGAN'S ISLAND fantasy episodes that were used to "expand" the stories that could be told.
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Rob Ocelot
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Posted: 26 August 2017 at 8:21am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

It's worth remembering a computer is only as smart (or as dumb) as the person programming it.   

A computer can't become self-aware until it's given the permission and means to rewrite it's own programming and protect other valuable parts from erasure (either accidental or intentional).   I assume Starfleet put protocols in place to prevent this on starships -- not only is there the potential for this to happen to every starship but it's possible the *network* of communicating ships could become sentient with each ship acting like a neuron.

Remember my first sentence.  Geordi gave the computer permission to alter it's programming which was a dumb move in and of itself (ISTR remember that there was no override requiring authorization either).  Furthermore he also gave it permission to protect itself -- a logical extension of the "to challenge Mr. Data" clause would include Data (or potentially anyone) trying to shut off the program!   Oops!

It's nothing new.   Since human beings embraced technology we've been finding better and more sophisticated ways to trap ourselves with it.

How long do you think it took after the invention of locks for someone to lock themselves out of their house?  Put locks on a machine and sure enough, we've been locking ourselves out of cars with the engine running for a century now.  Cars are now more computer than machine... you get the idea.

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Brian O'Neill
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Posted: 10 September 2017 at 5:01pm | IP Logged | 9 post reply

The Holodeck was TNG's version of  the TOS 'money-saving time travel/visiting planet with 'parallel' culture to some random period of Earth history' episodes. Somebody in the production meeting must have said 'But what if they could have one of THOSE adventures..WITHOUT leaving the ship?'
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