Thursday, June 6, 2013

Data's Emotion Chip

 A few weeks ago, I was at the movies when an ad came up for Star Trek: The Next Generation.  They’re going to show the two-part “The Best of Both Worlds” on movie screens.  Now, I was a huge Trek geek (before Babylon 5 came along), but I hated, hated, hated those episodes.

Why? Here’s a quick synopsis of episode one:

Picard gets turned into a Borg.  Riker becomes captain.  His first new officer is a woman named Shelby who hates him.  All of Starfleet is destroyed.  Just as the Borg are about to destroy Earth, they unleash a Borg-killing superweapon.

Sounds pretty good, right?  I was biting my nails all summer waiting for part two:

The weapon doesn’t do anything.  They kidnap Picard and turn him back into a human.  With his help, they blow up the Borg ship.  Shelby leaves, insisting she’ll have Starfleet back in a year. The end.

I know Star Trek likes to hit the reset button every episode, but it was a big disappointment (again, watch Babylon 5).  Here’s what I wanted to happen:

The new season features a crippled Enterprise on the run from the omnipresent Borg threat.  Patrick Steward is a new, recurring villain.  Riker is constantly at odds with Shelby who undercuts his authority at every turn.  They rescue Picard at the end of the season and vanquish the Borg, but the Klingons and Romulans are moving in on Starfleet, which is a third of its original strength.

Yeah, it’s been decades since those shows aired, and I still want to rewrite them.  Speaking of which, there is one element of the show I want to rewrite more than any other: Data and his emotion chip.

Now, if you’re still reading, I’m assuming you’re a Trek fan or my wife.  For the Trek fans, I’ve written for a Star Trek game where Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart read lines I wrote, so I have some street cred.  For my wife, no I haven’t done the laundry yet.

Anyway, here’s the background:

Data is an emotionless robot who constantly strives to have feelings.  His older twin robot, Lore, has emotions that caused him to go insane and kill.  Data was built without emotions as an attempt to solve the problem with Lore.

Eventually, Data meets his creator, who has spent years creating an emotion chip for him.  Then suddenly, Lore steals it.  In a later episode, the chip gets broken and, in a terribly anticlimactic moment, he gets emotions.

Here’s what I wanted to happen:
Notice how small it is?
In the episode where the emotion chip appears, Data’s creator says the only difference between Data and Lore is “a few lines of code.”  That’s the key right there.  How can emotions, which are so complex, be only a few lines?  It only makes sense if the code just says “Ignore the emotion programming.”  See, programmers don’t always delete old code, they just mark it so the computer skips it.  In short, Data always had suppressed emotions and the chip would just un-suppress them.

See, in several episodes, Data acts emotionally:  He nearly executes a vicious murderer and lies about it.  He expresses remorse at the death of a colleague and lover.  Heck, the desire to have emotions is emotional in itself!

Here’s how I was hoping the Data/chip thing would play out:

After the chip is destroyed, we have a few episodes where Data acts increasingly emotional.  Everyone thinks he’s malfunctioning (his ability to rewrite his own programming to “evolve” is well-established).  He discovers the original emotion programming is re-emerging.  Afraid he’s going to turn evil like Lore, he seeks out his brother for help.

Of course, Lore being evil and all, he attacks Data and escapes.  Data spends several episodes hiding his emerging personality from his crew and tracking his brother down.  He hopes to stop Lore and kill himself before he turns evil.  In a climactic moment, he catches Lore and defeats him.  As Data is taking him apart, Lore gives him an explanation.  Data’s emotions have already completely surfaced.  His hiding his condition from his friends and his dedication to finding Lore shows he has feelings, and he’s obviously not evil.

Now that would have been a good show.


here said...

we have a few episodes where Data acts increasingly emotional

Matthew Kagle said...

Well, that's got to be the most relevant spam anyone has ever tried to post on my site, so okay.