In which we meet an old friend, someone almost solves the problem of Friendly AI, and we increment a counter.
We all remember Harcourt Fenton Mudd from the episode early in season 1 about how even ugly women have value if they know how to cook. Thakfully, Star Trek has grown a lot as a show since then and while Mudd is still going to be a disgusting individual, that’s part of his charm and I have high hopes that the episode itself won’t be disgusting.
McCoy and Spock are having an argument about a crewman who never smiles, and then said crewman breaks into the engine room and overrides the navigation after tapping the security guard there lightly on the neck.
The crewman runs roughshod over everyone in Engineering and sabotages everything. In trying to get control over the ship, Kirk talks to a lot of departments that appear to have the ability to take back the ship, but all of them are unmanned. The crewman comes up to the bridge and reveals that he’s an android, and is kidnapping the ship because he needs Kirk’s help. Because beating up his crew are the best way to get on his good side. There’s no way that pissing off Kirk, the Talker To Death of Computers, will go badly for this android.
I was being sarcastic. Can you tell?
So how did this crewman become an android, exactly? Does Starfleet not do background checks? He wouldn’t let McCoy take him in for a physical, so he’s been an android for quite a while, but for how long. Is this going to get explained? All we have so far is that the android is saying please. And that they have a very insane sense of decoration.
Oh look at that, the king of all these dressing-gown-beclad androids is Harry Mudd, who is not very smart. Mudd was last seen in prison, and so apparently after he escaped and his ship, chartless, landed on a barely-habitable world where he built a bunch of identical sex-bots. At the end of this long expository text block, Mudd reveals that the androids want to study humans and have been keeping him prisoner, so he’s exchanging Kirk and crew for himself. He also has deep emotional problems, but that’s just going to be the funny way Mudd gets his comeuppance.
Apparently, the androids were created by intergalactic humanoids stemming from Andromeda, and were in fact a friendly AI, or as close to one as we’ve seen so far. They didn’t rise up and slay or enslave their makers, which is somewhat unusual for Star Trek. Instead, their makers died out naturally, leaving an android workforce purposeless and without direction. So that workforce took purpose form the first outsider they came across. It’s hardly their fault that was Harry Mudd.
Lest anyone think I’ve been souring, fear not. We just had a bunch of really bad episodes in a row, but this one is redeeming. It’s got some great dialogue and when you consider that the AI is just trying to be helpful, a wonderful look into the suspicion and distrust that Starfleet views AI with, particularly when you realize that Kirk and Spock have come up with a plan that involves blowing up the central processor and killing the last of what might be considered, at the end of TNG Season 2, an entire species.
That’s not the main point of the episode, of course. The primary purpose is that a gilded cage is still a cage. The androids literally only want to make the crew happy, but sadly this conflicts with their purpose of studying the crew. The dissonance causes the androids to realize that they’re better than humanoids and decide to turn humanity into a peaceful, philosophical species obsessed with knowledge and happiness instead of greed. So, basically, the TNG-era humanity. I wonder if it’s plausible if any of the androids escape the end of this episode.
They have a central coordination through the single Norman android, and they start to be insane in front of the androids, with the intention of causing an unhandled exception that destroys the kernel. Even Spock gets in on the action, telling one of the identical androids he loves her and another that he hates her, thus forcing the computer to simultaniously believe that X = Y, X = 1, and Y = 0.
Note to self: when I create my race of robot minions, give them a subroutine for semantic garbage collection.
Kirk Talks A Computer To Death Count: 3.