What deep concepts could Star Trek ponder next?

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Lokain and Bele

Emblematic of the issues Star Trek liked to delve in was the episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” about two members of the same race that hated each other because of their “obvious differences.”

There was an interesting question in IO9’s Postal Apocalypse mailbox this week, which “Postman” Rob Brickman decided to acknowledge as a great question… then pass on answering:

While many issues have been raised about how poorly Star Trek has tackled issues like gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity—and I certainly hope that we eventually get to see Federation citizens pursuing gay relationships and trans* individuals with no one batting an eye—it’s inspired me to wonder about how Star Trek could get out ahead of modern civil rights to tackle something our progressive civil rights movements have not reached yet. We’ve seen this in limited fashion with AI like Data and the EMH, where we explore what it is that constitutes an individual with equal rights and privileges, but I’m wondering about what might come after that. Hive-minds? The transfer of biological consciousness to a synthetic medium?

What’s the next, next generation of science fictiony rights issues that Star Trek could tackle when it someday returns to the small screen? What shape could egalitarianism take on in the 25th century?

I think the takeaway on that is that future fictional postmen in apocalyptic America couldn’t care less about Star Trek.  Clearly they realize how dated and obsolete the franchise is by then.  Nevertheless, I thought it was a great question, too, and would love to take a crack at a response. Continue reading

Robots: Our future companions

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robot loveI’ve pontificated on robots as tools, slaves and devils.  I’ve discussed the possibility of robot sentience.  Now it’s time to talk about the real issue: Whether robots will ever become satisfactory replacements for humans… including as companions, and even love interests. Continue reading

Robots and sentience

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iStock Photo

iStock Photo

Robot. Sentience.  They are two words that, when considered at the surface, don’t seem to be able to go together.  After all, a robot is a mechanical creation, generally considered incapable of sentience, or full self-awareness.  We specifically use the word “robot” to imply that the machine cannot have sentience; a robot is a clockwork thing.

When we try to suggest that a mechanical creation has sentience, we tend to immediately rename it.  Cyborg.  Android.  Replicant.  Synthezoid.  We distance ourselves from the word “robot,” and seek to redefine the creation to stand for something beyond its mechanical parts.

Is it because we want to keep the concept of “robots” as simple things?  Or is it because we see sentience as being beyond mechanical creations?  Do we see sentience as requiring some special spark that robots are incapable of? Continue reading

Relevance in the modern era, with spies… and SF

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scene from Skyfall

Skyfall, courtesy MGM and Columbia Pictures.

The latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, may not be Bond’s sexiest, over-the-top adventure yet, but it might be his most vital: The theme of the movie is relevance… old vs new… and Bond’s place in the post-Cold-War era.  M and MI6 are similarly attacked—literally and, apparently, easily—as the villain applies the latest computer tools to the old-school organization, and brings into question whether or not this stodgy organization, and its spies, can keep up with the modern era. Continue reading