The Irony of Mr. Data
by S. M. Hutchens
I've been interested in the concept of artificial intelligence since I first ran into it in Isaac Asimov's novels—Asimov was fascinated with the subject—especially appreciating his philosophical, not just technical, approach to it. We find a continuation of the theme in Star Trek's Mr. Data. If I am not mistaken, in the end Asimov confirmed the materialism of his worldview and did not recognize any categorical difference between real and artificial intelligence, while interestingly, the writers of Star Trek posited in Data a never-satisfied intuition that he, despite his highest efforts, could never achieve true humanity.
I would be surprised if there was any recognition among those writers that this longing in Data for a human soul (like Pinocchio—but with no possible divine intervention, for while Star Trek had many gods, it was Godless) was at odds with the outspoken atheism of his captain that paradoxically made the machine with his unfulfilled striving the moral superior of the god-man Picard. I am, of course, with Mr. Data: even the best reproduction can be no more than an image of the reality, and only the souled reality can generate an image—a shared tenet of all the Abrahamic faiths.
S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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