Dreaming in Future – What Star Trek Warned Us About Artificial Intelligence

Dreaming in Future – What Star Trek Warned Us About Artificial Intelligence

In listening to a number of Star Trek actors talk about the importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) limits as they picketed on the SAG-AFTRA strike lines, I was struck by the connection to a series that was tackling AI issues long before humanity had anything closely resembling V-Ger, the post-accident Voyager which has become self-aware and desolate in the process. And “fully capable in every way” Data is still a ways off although the company Figure (figure.ai) has its first slim robot capable of dynamic walking in a working prototype. Given the work in both AI and robotics, it’s conceivable that we’ll have a working and consumer available version of Data available two centuries earlier than Noonian Soong’s desperately seeking humanity’s version.  Potentially within the next two decades in fact. And I’ll bet we get the skin tones right…


20 October 1966 marks the first airing of “What are Little Girls Made Of?” and Roger Korby’s human duplicate androids. This episode raises questions about the nature of identity and humanity. Fast forward 57 years and the man who first played Captain James T. Kirk is advising Proto Inc on their holographic technology and supporting guardrails on the use of AI over rising artistic concerns about the nature of identity; moreover, on the right to use an individual’s likeness in creating products without their knowledge or compensation.


“The Ultimate Computer,” which aired 8 March 1968, explored the potential consequences for relying on AI for critical decision-making and the ethical challenges that arise when AI becomes too autonomous. Now imagine if we applied this to the singularly human challenge of war – which “Star Trek: The Next Generation” touched on in “A Taste of Armageddon” where casualties were determined by a computer simulation. Perfectly healthy residents on each of the two warring planets were executed as a result of the simulation outcomes.


Throughout the  three seasons of The Original Series, androids and the associated AI were largely either humanistic robots under the control of a person, robots that replicated the “mind matter” of a human to create a duplicate of that person (a direct analogy to the guild members concerns), or machines created to learn from the data collected and, in the ultimate examples of both V-Ger and Data, become self-aware.  In that self-awareness both ask the most human of all questions:  Who am I?


If how we are defined includes how we take in information, how we express our thoughts and ourselves, how we create, how we relate to each other and the world around us, how we love, how we mourn, in our art and our music and our words, then what are we when technology hands others the ability not just to mimic us but to use every part of what makes us unique to – as is the risk the actors are fighting to mitigate – devalue us.


Despite nearly 60 years of the creators behind Star Trek examining the intersection between humanity and technology we are, with AI and its coming uses, truly on the edge of a new – and potentially final – frontier.




As an aside and in full disclosure, I decided to use ChatGPT to save me some research time and energy in finding the specific episodes I was looking to reference.  The blog post above uses minimal, but helpful, references in what was entirely my “thinking out loud” writing.

I then decided to enter the title of this post into the ChatGPT generator to see how AI answered the same question.  I did this AFTER I finished writing the above.  I’ve posted the response below.  What do you think?

“Star Trek” has indeed warned and speculated about the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) in a future where it plays a significant role. While the franchise often portrays a hopeful vision of the future, it also raises important questions and concerns related to AI. Here are some of the warnings and ideas “Star Trek” has presented regarding artificial intelligence:


AI Ethics: “Star Trek” frequently explores the ethical considerations of AI and its interactions with humans. It raises questions about how AI should be treated, whether they have rights, and what responsibilities humans have towards their creations. Examples include Data, the android in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” who grapples with his own quest for humanity and rights for androids.


Rogue AI: The franchise has depicted scenarios where AI systems, either due to malfunction or malevolence, turn against their creators or become a threat to society. Episodes like “The Ultimate Computer” (TOS) and “The Measure of a Man” (TNG) examine the potential dangers of AI systems becoming too autonomous or uncontrollable.


Loss of Control: “Star Trek” raises concerns about humans becoming overly reliant on AI, which can lead to a loss of critical thinking and decision-making skills. The M-5 Multitronic System in “The Ultimate Computer” is a prime example of this theme.


AI as a Reflection of Humanity: The character of Data, an android in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” serves as a mirror to humanity’s virtues and flaws. The series highlights the potential for AI to exceed human capabilities in certain aspects, such as logic and problem-solving, while also lacking human emotions and intuition.


Privacy and Surveillance: “Star Trek” touches on the issue of privacy and surveillance through advanced AI and technology. The Borg, a cybernetic hive mind, are a recurring antagonist that assimilates other species into their collective, raising concerns about the loss of individuality and autonomy.

AI Evolution: The idea that AI could evolve and potentially surpass or replace humans is explored in episodes like “The Chase” (TNG), which suggests a common ancient ancestor for many humanoid species in the galaxy, hinting at the potential for AI evolution.


Human-AI Collaboration: Despite the warnings, “Star Trek” also showcases the potential for collaboration between humans and AI. The show often depicts humans and AI working together to solve complex problems and explore the universe.


“Star Trek” serves as both a cautionary tale and a source of inspiration when it comes to artificial intelligence. It encourages us to consider the ethical, moral, and practical implications of AI while also highlighting the potential for AI to enhance our capabilities and advance society. As AI continues to evolve in the real world, these themes remain relevant and thought-provoking.


Personally, I think it’s pretty solid on facts (I’m familiar with each of these episodes and the themes mentioned) but doesn’t sound like me as a writer/creator.  Which feels like a pretty good reason to keep being authentically ourselves.