StarLog – The main character. Enterprise!

In what ways does the U.S.S. Enterprise function as a character, not just a vehicle in Star Trek? Does “she” have a personality? Do the other ships in the Star Trek universe have the same level of character development?

To be honest I do not think that the starships actually can be viewed as characters. Yes, Enterprise is named, gendered, and the “real” characters talk to her. And the computer responds. But as a general rule, the computer has no selfawareness, does not solve problems (only at the prompt of the real characters), and only has a personality to the extent that the real characters project their own perceptions and ideas on to the ship.

We like to talk about Enterprise as a character. And Star Trek would not have been Star Trek without Enterprise. But I flatly dismiss the idea that Enterprise is actually a character in her own right.

StarLog – the future of propulsion

Where do you think ion propulsion and future engine technology will take us? What are the dangers? Are there other applications?

It will take us further out in space! But where it will also take us is not places far out in space. But also to more local spaces. Solving problems related to it, will give us new technology. And we have no idea where that will take us, in the same way that we did not know how the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics would bring us GPS-navigation.

The dangers? Hard to say. I would claim that we should be mindful of not using all our reserves of Xenon for this. Other than that. Probably none. Unless it turns out that ion propulsion damages subspace in some way.

Finally. All four pips:

StarLog – we are explorers

At the end of the video, Margaret says that space exploration was controversial in the 1970s and 1980s. People wondered why the government was spending time and money exploring the solar system when critical problems existed here on Earth. What do you think? Should the government resolve Earthly issues before exploring space? Or is a scientific investigation of distant worlds a fundamentally human endeavor of exploration? Explain your argument.

No. Governments should not attempt to solve all problems on the globe, before exploring. One. Human life is one continous series of problems and challenges. We will never get past the goal-post, because it will continously move. It is an impossible goal.

Should we not try anyway? Why pour money into a spaceprogram, when we could instead help homeless people, to take just one of the, relatively, smaller problems we are facing? It is hard to argue for exploration, especially in an endeavour as expensive as spaceexploratoin, in the face of a homeless man.

But humanity is fundamentally an exploring race. The reason we are everywhere on this planet, for good and bad, is that we have explored. The reason that life-expectancy is at a record high, even in poor countries in the third world, is that we are explorers. The introductory video mentions that. We are explorers, not only in a geographical, or astronomical sense, but in every sense of the word. Abandoning the exploration, even the expensive space-version of it, betrays our future. To take just one very basic example, the images brought home from the moon, for the first time showing how small, beautiful and fragile our planet is, made it clear to humanity how extraordinary lucky we are to live. And how important it is to take care of the one planet in the universe where we know live exist.

Now we just need to prove that intelligent live exists somewhere in the universe. Demonstrating that it exists on Earth, would be a good place to start.

StarLog – utopia

And even more homework for Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology

Think of a global issue that we are facing today that causes fear or concern. What would be the plot of a television show that depicted a utopian and optimistic vision of the future of that issue? 

Climate. No doubt. The consequences of globalisation, and the problems arising from that, populist political leaders in most of the world to begin with could be another. But the most pressing should probably be climate change.

And the plot. Well, it could simply be – Star Trek. We do see a lot of plots for episodes and movies in that universe that adresses that specific issue. “The one with the whales” (Star Trek IV – the voyage home) is the most obvious. But we see a lot of other episodes. Night in VOY, where Janeway confronts the Malons. The existential threat to Star Fleet and the Federation in “Force of Nature”. So I will abstain from trying to device my own show. And simply ṕoint to Star Trek.

Star Trek confronts the problems head-on. The problems are more or less simply solved. Or at the very least they try to solve them. I am not sure the problems in “Force of Nature” are actually solved. But the Federation, at least in that episode, and some of the following, actually tries to mitigate the effects of their environmentally damaging actions. We see similar issues in Discovery, where the use of the spore-drive, must be said to present som environmental problems. That might be the reason we do not see spore-drive in the existing series.

StarLog – Artificial Intelligence

Next piece of homework for Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology:

Where do you see Artificial Intelligence going? Will it be Data, The Doctor or something new? Do we need to fear it, embrace it or something in between? 

On the very long term – definitely something like Data og the EMH, that is general artificial intelligence with an awareness of self. Intelligence and self-awareness, appears to be an emergent phenomenon of complex networks. We have it. The more we look for it, the more higher animals we observe it in. That means that it is probably just a question of time, before we are able to build a neural network, that is sufficiently complex that self-awareness and the ability to learn, will emerge.

That will take some time. A lot longer than what we are led to believe by the marketing. On the shorter term, we are going to see a lot more specific artificial intelligence.

So – where is it going? Definitely towards Data. In very small steps. And there is a very long way to go before we get to the EMH.

Should we fear it? We should fear it kinda like we fear the eventual death of the sun. Yes, it will burn out, it will end life on Earth. But not in our lifetimes, and not in our grandchildrens lifetime. Right now we should embrace it. As mentioned in the interview, artificial intelligence as we know it now, has given us more time to do what truly brings value to our work, ourselfes, and our fellow human beings. That is not a threat.

But we should begin to think hard about the moral and ethical implications of how we use artificial intelligence. The US drones are now capable of taking off themselves, flying to the target area on autopilot, identify targets, and returning after the killshot. As it appears from outside the intelligence community, the only reason that the artificial intelligence in the drones does not also pull the trigger and launch the missile on its own, is ethical considerations.

And those are things we need to think about. And perhaps be a little fearful of. Not the artificial intelligence, but rather the all to real human stupidity. We should think about who will be held responsible for mistakes. If the missile launch is determined to be a breach of the laws of war, who is responsible? The programmer? The people inputting data into the neural networks? The designers of the training sets? When the selfdriving car makes a mistake, and hits someone – who is responsible? When it makes a choice between hitting the stroller and the retiree – was that the right answer.

We might as well get started on those issues. They are only going to get more complicated. And don’t get me started on the moral implications of what we should do when we reboot the computer network that has gained self-awareness.

A good place to start, would be to watch some Star Trek. Because these issues has been discussed before. The trial determining the humanity of Data and the issues regarding holodeck malfunctions to take just to cases.

And that should get me to the next rank – Lieutenant Junior Grade:

StarLog – technology must-haves

More homework for “Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology

Scott asked, “What Star Trek technology is on your list of must-haves?” Could the Star Trek universe exist without this type of technology? How would it be better (or worse) with (or without) this technology? Be sure to use evidence to support your argument.

The obvious answer: Star Trek could not exist without warp-drive. Getting from planet to planet would be impossible. What is really cool is the transporter. But that is not at must-have. Neither are phasers, quantum-torpedoes, (medical) tricorders etc. Would Star Trek be worse without warp-drive? No, it would not exist.

But I think the most important technology is the replicator – in combination with, for all practical purposes, unlimited energy. That, in my opinion is the important technology.

What it does, is making the Star Trek universe a universe without scarcity. Picard sums it up in “First Contact”:

“The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

Humanity does not want anymore. No one needs to starve, no one has to be without housing, food and clean water. And assuming that what ever delivers the energy required, does so in a clean way, we can do it without destrying the environment.

That, the unlimited energy, the instant delivery of “earl grey. Hot”, is the most important technology.

Star Trek can work without it. Voyager frequently has to ration the energy reserves, and in TOS at least a couple of episodes are centered around the need to get fresh dilithium crystals.

That does not imply that money is a thing of the past. It might be in the ideal world of the Star Fleet flagship. But we see several instances of Star Fleet officers having to pay for things. And the other races, Ferengis is the obvious example, do have money. But hunger, and need for material things is a thing of the past in the Federation. And that, makes the replicator and unlimited energy the most important technologies in Star Trek.

StarLog – my favorite character

Scott also asked, “Who is your favorite Star Trek character?” Feel free to discuss any character from the franchise. Why is this character your favorite? Is it someone you personally connect with? Is it someone who played a particularly powerful role in the franchise? How is this character grounded in the social or political time of his or her creation? 

So hard to choose. The though and competent Jadzia Dax. The, well, also though and competent Janeway. Garak, Weyoun, Kai Winn, Q or Quark. Because villians make the most interesting characters. Data – for the childlike wonder. And the detached logic and rationality that also makes me love Tuvok, T’Pol and Spock. The same things that make me love Seven of Nine and the EMH. Or the true heroes of Starfleet, the ones left with the repairs and clean up after the glamourus adventures of the rest of the crew: Scottie, Geordi, O’Brien, Belanna, Tucker and Stamets.

The personal connection should be to Stamets. I am an engineer. He is an engineer. He is also gay, as am I. But that does not make him my favorite character. Starfleet Corps of Engineers are the true heroes of Star Trek, and I will die on that hill. But I abhor the idea that my favorite character of Star Trek should be determined by how well they match my personal identity.

I am not certain. But if pressed, right now, I would probably say Weyoun. The cold, evil, arrogant, detached and cynical Weyoun. I hope I dont have too much in common with him. And I am at a loss to describe how he, or the Vortas as a race, is grounded in any social or political issues at the time of their creation. He is (one of) the interesting character(s) of DS9. Villians tend to be. And the performance of Jeffrey Combs is an amazing actor. Anyway. The potential societal issues would be drugs and genetic engineering. The philosophical questions arising from the “fact” that Vortas appear to be genetically engineered to worship the Founders are interesting, not least as a counterpoint to the treatment of Bajoran religion, that is quite different from the way religion normally is treated in Star Trek.

 

StarLog 4. Canon

Continuing on the “Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology” trek. This log will discuss this topic:

In your opinion, what are the benefits of adhering to canon? What creative potential exists in jumping off from it? Where has Star Trek (or other similar franchises) done it well or poorly?

First, the benefits. Canon in Star Trek – and let us for a moment forget the theoretical issues around what canon is, and how it is built – provides Star Trek (or other franchises) with a universe. A coherent base of where we are, the ground rules of the storytelling, and a solid foundation of the characters and how we can expect them to behave.

The potential for a franchise, is that i draws at least some types of fans, to it. And I would argue that these are the fans you need, if you want to grow a fanbase that will fight for the survival of the franchise.

Canon provides a longer period to develop characters. If the growth and maturation of a character is desirable, that takes time. This was to a certain extent proscribed by the episodic nature for the early series, where Star Trek, from DS9 and onwards, has adhered more closely to canon, or at least the in-series canon. Existing material can be developed further, and form the basis of new stories. An example would be Ro Laren. A small, recurring, character in TNG, that formed the basis for all of DS9.

In developing new stories, that should save time. Writes do not need to explain that klingons are a proud warrior race. We know that. That saved time can be used to build up the individual characters, and develop the klingon culture.

The obvious non-Star Trek example would be Starwars. The title of the firsst movie alone, told us that there was a large previous history, that build up to this movie.

We see similar examples in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, where smaller off springs of the main narrative have formed the basis of works like “Farmer Giles of Ham”.

On the other hand adhering to canon leaves restrictions on the story telling. I am not a professional writer, but I would imagine that at least some of those restrictions would be conducive to the creative process. Following canon prohibits an alternative history. Vulcan cannot be destroyed before TOS, no matter how interesting a story that would be.

But departing from canon, leaves interesting possibilities. The change in the treatment of Ferengis from TNG to DS9 gave writers the opportunity to do it better next time. Ferengis used to be pirates. Some of them still are, but we are presented with a Ferengi culture in DS9, that is markedly different from what we see in TNG. Except where it isn’t. Ferengis are still misogynistic moneygrubbers. And I am not at all pleased with the slightly anti-semitic notes in the DS9 version of Ferengis.

Departing from canon does not necessarily mean that canon is completely left behind. The appearence of Klingons is a great example. The honored tradition of retconning, leaves some very interesting questions left unanswered after Trials and Tribble-actions.

Star Log 3

More homework for “Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology”.

To what extent did the business model of network television enable Star Trek: The Original Series to appeal to such a wide range of audiences? In ways did that same model constrain it?

Network television, and especially the syndication concept, made it possible to reach a lot of different audiences. Viewers would know when the show would air. Broad, family friendly programming filled the need at the networks to cater to a very wide range of audiences – to hit all segments of society with advertising. And Star Trek provided a narrative of a positive future. With a cast that covered almost all segments of viewers.

Network television and syndication also hampered the series. Or rather the lack of information about what demographics actually watched it. That meant that it appeared to get too few viewers, and was subsequently cut.

And that should get me to the rank of ensign:

Starlog – 2

The course “Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology” asks me to do a media analysis. Or – write about Star Trek. The latter interpretation is much more interesting 🙂

The question posed is:

“Which pilot, best adresses the contemporary societal issues from when it was produced while taking the most advantage of the television format on which it was shown? Rank the episodes you watch in mumerical order, where 1 is the episode that best answers the question prompt.”

  • The episodes are:
  •  “The Cage” – TOS (first pilot)
  • “Where No Man Has Gone Before” – TOS (second pilot)
  • “Encounter at Far Point” – TNG
  • “Emissary” – DS9
  • “Caretaker” – VOY
  • “Broken Bow” – ENT
  • “The Vulcan Hello” – DIS

Before answering, it might be worth noting, that watching Star Trek from outside the US, actually makes it a bit difficult. What were the contemporary societal issue in the US in 1987? And how does that relate to “Encounter at Far Point”? Those of us living in the rest of the world (96% of it) do have a pretty good idea about the current societal issues in the US. And as a die-hard trekkie, it is pretty easy to figure out what they were. Just look at the issues treated in Star Trek. On the other hand – those are the issues that we notice today, and might reflect the issues that we today think are important, were important, should be important, or should have been important.

Anyway, here goes.

  1. Discovery. Women, women everywhere! An issue that is clearly perceived as important today is female underrepresentation in media, and other places. The gender-atypical name “Michael” of the protagonist also speaks to the societal issues of trans-rights, and we finally saw a gay couple on-screen in Star Trek.
  2. TNG. Not quite yet out of the cold war, humanity is on trial for our past transgressions. We are being held accountable for our wrongs, by an omnipotent being. In a post-apocalyptic setting, after a nuclear war. I would say it adresses the fears of war and the growing awareness of environmental disaster.
  3. DS9. The first black captain! Also religion is treated quite different from what we have previously seen.
  4. ENT. My best guess is the race-issue. We are confronted with a very different culture, that is, to some extent a threat to humanity. At the same time humanity is put in is place, or rather tried to be put into our place, by a superior race.
  5. TOS. “Where no man has gone before”. A black woman in command! A person of, probably, japanese descent, presented to an audience that must have grown up learning that Japan was an existential threat to the US. Both on the bridge, in positions of relative authority.
  6. TOS – especially “The Cage”. To be honest. To cerebral. The only issue I can find is the female number one.
  7. VOY. A female captain. Feminism takes center stage in Star Trek. But last on my list, because we have already seen strong female characters in all the previous series, at times where these issues were, or perhaps should have been, more pressing.

As to the use of the television format. I do not really see a difference between the series. All of them where first broadcast on a single channel, and then went into syndication. Even Discovery is basically broadcast on a single channel. The main difference is that we do not have to tune in at a certain time, but can watch the episodes at our leasure. That might make it easier to gather new audiences. The main difference is probably that the way the stories are told, streamed or not, has changed. The long story archs gives room for more character development, compared to the more episodic storytelling of previous series. But that change began before streaming. Enterprise has long story archs as well, as do DS9.