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Commander’s Log, Supplemental

Earth Date: 28 May, 2019

It’s hard for me to know, with any real expertise, the future of ion propulsion, its dangers or its possible applications outside space travel. NASA does, of course, have information about what we currently know about the technology, and about its use so far, but as for imagining the future, that is to be left to my own imagination.

Star Trek is a good guide for that imagination. After all, if imagination is good for anything, it’s envisioning the future, and Star Trek has been the guide for many technological pathways, including ion propulsion; it was Star Trek that gave NASA the idea of ion propulsion. As for the reality of interstellar travel, ion propulsion can’t grant us that power. While it is the most advanced technology we have developed thus far, it is still largely being used within our own system.

However, the Tau Zero Foundation is committed to discovering interstellar travel, and they have a long list of potential propulsion systems. According to their website, electric propulsion systems, such as ion propulsion, require a huge amount of power to propell them, and so can only be used in satellites or probes. Therefore, it’s unlikely that it would be used on any manned craft. They also suggest that probes might reach another star system within decades, but that such probes would more likely be fusion rockets or powered by antimatter than use ion propulsion.

So, closer to home, what are the potentials of ion propulsion? Right now, we of course have the Dawn mission and similar missions. There is also the mission to the moon and mars. In this mission, NASA plans to send astronauts to stay on the moon in chemical rockets, and to set up a solar electrical satellite to orbit the moon. Although the rocket to the moon does not use ion propulsion, it appears the satellite set to orbit it is.

Although all this does sound wonderful, we still have some way to go in terms of sustainability. Some propulsion systems, such as that of the fusion rocket, won’t be possible if we keep wasting helium.

[Edit: according to this wikipedia article on the Daedalus Project, helium might be mined from Jupiter]

However, that may be one more reason we are focusing more on ion propulsion than helium propulsion.

We aren’t carrying out these missions under the United Federation of Planets; NASA, with its international cooperation, is the closest thing we have to that. As such, we have a responsibility to manage our resources sensibly. We haven’t developed warp speed in real life, and neither are tachyons thought to be possible. Nevertheless, the example Star Trek gave us decades ago has given way to other inventions, including ion propulsion. It just isn’t enough to send a manned vehicle between the stars quickly enough.

Even so, it certainly seems likely that we will keep learning about space, the formation of life, and what is yet to be discovered out there. The Dawn mission is of particular interest to me; it sends spacecrafts to alien planets to study the formation of life, and to me this study seems to resemble similar studies on the prehistory of Earth itself. This is what I mean by blending environmental with space science. Perhaps one day spacecrafts like Dawn will discover somewhere with life, even simple life, upon some surface and will be able to tell us some important secrets to life in the universe.

Ion propulsion is, currently, the best way we can go further than we have before. Not only does it have the potential to shorten space trips, but it is also more practical than chemical propulsion. NASA is using the ion propulsion system not only to send spacecraft far from home, but they’re also a more efficient method of keeping crafts in orbit. And it is with this system, in all likelihood, that a craft will be send on a data-gathering mission to orbit two planets in a distant star system, not unlike the more recent and closer-to-home Dawn mission.

So if you were looking for dangers of ion technology, there’s one possible danger. As someone lacking in expertise on this subject, it’s impossible to know if the phasers in Star Trek would truly work in real life as they do on the show. Could the technology to shoot plasma the same way it propels ships be developed? How might it effect a human? Hopefully, we can stick to the message of benevolence that is at the heart of Star Trek, and never develop plasma weapons. But it may take some resistance against those aggressive powers in the world that would value such a thing, if present circumstances is anything to go by.

We must remain curious, but above all empathetic, if we’re to have the best influence on the world. It is up to our scientists to lead the way on this.

#StarTrekCourse @SmithsonianX

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Commander’s Log

Earth Date: 21 May, 2019

Commander, reporting for duty. Yes, it’s true! I’ve been promoted!

Starting from the original series, the USS Enterprise has always been said to have a personality, a character. And perhaps this is simply because the characters, especially Captain Kirk, say she does. Sulu even comments on this at one point, wondering aloud why ships are always referred to as “she”.

But does she truly have her own character, or is it just in everybody’s head? By analysing the look and feel of this ship in this and even other Star Trek series, perhaps we can figure that out.

The original series certainly had the strongest sense of the ship having its own personality; everyone remembers the soothing pings of the ship, those blocky control panels, the command chair, the bridge, the turbolifts, the quarters. The Enterprise from Star Trek’s original series is widely recognised and beloved, especially by fans who have been around from the start. Even if you pass aside what the characters serving aboard the vessel thought, the ship itself made its impression on viewers, especially when you remember no one had ever seen a ship like it before.

The way the ship interacts with the crew, too, may contribute to how they conceptualise the ship in their minds. Sulu may complain about calling the ship a “she,” but the truth is that when recalling information from the ship’s computer, it responds in a woman’s voice. She was probably programmed to respond that way, by the makers of the ship who came to her design with the concept that she would be a “she,” but nonetheless it is a factor that makes up her character on screen.

And there’s also the fact that when Kirk talks of the ship constantly taking from him in The Naked Time, he talks of her as if she’s a real woman. This may be due to the fact that, while they’re away far from home, they’re always surrounded by the ship, and so it starts to become a constant presence over an extended period of time. Living like that can have a mental affect on any human, so they start to anthropomorphise the ship into a constant companion as a way of coping with so much sameness. It may even be a way of coping with loneliness; perhaps that’s what Kirk’s speech was really about.

It becomes a running joke on the original series that Kirk is in love with the ship, and that serves as an explanation for his character throughout the series. Yet in the third Star Trek movie, The Search For Spock, he destroys it for the chance to save Spock, which belies his true heart. It was always Spock, and this has been evident even during Star Trek’s initial run. He was constantly staring after Spock, and he proved time and again that he would do anything for the man. Anything, apparently including blowing up his career and his ship in order to save Spock’s soul, and later, his life.

Yet even while he was willing to do all this for Spock, he still looked up at his crashing ship for a moment of mourning and asked, “What have I done?” And before McCoy’s answer, we get a moment of grief, of whatever that ship meant to him. Stability, home, adventure, freedom, whatever it was, we mourn with him, just as we have until this moment believed in her as a character along with him. In the next moment, McCoy says, “Turned death into a fighting chance to live,” and we’re forced to move on to the next step of Spock’s rescue.

Another character who is seen to have an affinity with the Enterprise in this series is Scotty. Scotty is often to be found in Engineering, “giving her all she’s got,” and being “a miracle worker.” As the one most invested in the running of the ship, Scotty is also the one most in belief that the ship has its own character. He treats the ship like a lady, one deserving of respect.

As a matter of fact, when he turns up in TNG, having been caught in a transporter buffer for about 70 years, it becomes clear just how much he loved and now misses the ship he served on. The Enterprise-D just isn’t the same; it doesn’t feel the same, it isn’t home. Too much has changed, and it only serves to remind us that he’s a man out of his time, who just doesn’t belong anymore. He no longer has that connection to the ship; he doesn’t know the ship anymore, can’t tinker with his hands to stay physically connected, and he’s lost the emotional cohesion that he shared with his Enterprise. It no longer feels like a loved one, but a stranger.

In TNG and DS9, we have another engineer who feels a connection to the ship and then the station he serves upon: O’Brien. An Irish Chief of Operations, he shares Scotty’s connection to technology and technical know-how. In DS9, he tells us what we always understood: every computer has its own personality. He said that the Enterprise-D had a completely different personality to DS9, so indeed I do think other ships serve the same function as the Enterprise as having its own character. But it doesn’t come through as strongly, nor are other ships as iconic as the Enterprise.

#StarTrekCourse @SmithsonianX


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Lieutenant Commander’s Log, Supplemental

Earth Date: 19th May, 2019

Although we have progressed greatly in achieving greater tolerance and acceptance for divrsity since at least the release of the original series, today we are facing an amount of pushback against that tolerance from far-right politics, terrorists, and neo-Nazis.

This re-emergence from extremists is proof of three things: that we can’t afford to get complacent; that those who oppose diversity have been around us all along; and that we can’t afford to cede any ground. This situation may well have arrived due to complacency, or because we’ve won enough ground to trigger a counter-attack, or because public discourse transformed after 9/11 into one of black-and-white morality that lacks nuance and breeds intolerance of people and ideas. But whatever the reason, this is what the world has become, and now we must overcome the situation.

This is why diverse representation is so important. We are engaged in a war of ideas, and the winner is the one who convinces the most people; people are the ones who shape the world. Star Trek proved that, if the amount of people currently working for NASA is anything to go by. Star Trek is a force for good in the world, having encouraged diversity from the start and creating enough benevolence in scientists so they can work to better the world.

Part of this influence may lie in the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC for short). Vulcans honour diversity in all its combinations, and Vulcan IDIC pins are symbolic of this. Certainly, the Vulcan fascination with difference is explored with Spock in the original series. We also learn of their history that before the IDIC philosophy was embraced, Vulcans were at war with one another. But this philosophy is what united the Vulcans and eventually led them to seek out other forms of diversity. Vulcans also had a big influence on humans’ journey to the stars, as was revealed in Star Trek: Enterprise.

On the other hand, Star Trek also has representatives of the philosophical opponents such diversity. What I find so fascinating about Cardassians is that they’re a dark reflection of ourselves. Gul Dukat, for example, is someone who shows that you can be evil and still persuade so many others to sympathise with you. That sympathy is dangerous: it can lead people down the path of hatred, superiority, and greed. It can allow so many others to agree with him that his actions were justified, for whatever reasons he happens to be spouting that day. But it is imperative that we not allow Cardassians like Dukat to persuade us to walk into that darkness with them.

Cardassians and Vulcans are my two favourite Star Trek aliens, and perhaps this is because of this opposition between them, of good vs evil, logic vs passion. Certainly there are other aliens that represent some aspects of humans ― Bajorans might seem like a group to emulate, but they’re also terrorists, and can be as prejudiced as humans, and Ferengi show us the greed and exploitation of capitalists, while at the same time reminding us that capitalism isn’t the core of all our problems ― but Cardassians and Vulcans most reflect who we can be in the future. If we allow ourselves to go the way of the Cardassians, that would mean remaining as colonisers whose leaders talk of nationalism while ruining the planet and stealing from others to maintain its peoples survival. If we go the way of the Vulcans, it would mean leading the way in working together with others, learning anything we can about other cultures, and doing what is best for the mutual survival of ourselves and others.

At any rate, the aliens of Star Trek are as relevant in issues we face today as any other representation in media. For example, the misogynistic attitudes embedded in Ferengi culture seems to reflect current trends against women today, such as regarding abortion. Ferengi seek to control and subjugate, never giving them power; the recent abortion bills in America also seek to steal female agency.

Jameela Jamil, star of The Good Place, often speaks out online on different issues. Here, on her Instagram, she speaks of Alabama’s recent abortion legislation.

Another example is the Bajoran occupation by the Cardassians, which could be said to represent the Israeli/Palestinian conflict over land. The Israeli claim is that the land is their cultural heritage, and the Palestinians have no claim to it. The truth is that Palestinians have just as much claim as the Israelis, but the Israelis use this lie as an excuse to hold power over the Palestinians. Similarly, the Cardassians claim to be culturally superior to the Bajorans, and thus have a right to rule them.

Eurovision 2019 act Hatari, holding up a Palestinian banner during the tallying of scores in Israel.

All these examples only demonstrate the diversity of Star Trek aliens, the range of issues we have to deal with, and the diversity of people who exist to be represented and who are fighting for equality.

But we’re not there yet; we have a long way yet to go until we reach true diversity.

It would take a lot still to get there, including but limited to:

  • creating new laws to protect people from technology-based crimes, such as drone attacks and breaches of privacy, revenge porn, creating deep fakes of people without their permission, and cyberbullying
  • taking power from those who hold the most of it, and redistributing wealth from the richest people who hoard it
  • eliminate racial discrimination, profiling, and bias, including the school-to-prison pipeline, and police brutality
  • respect all people, whether they’re school students or prisoners. Restricting and disrespecting people leads to a miserable, subjugated society
  • having diverse media, which is adequately promoted and not suppressed or cancelled due to its diversity
  • sharing resources equally with neighbouring communities
  • stop blaming oppressed people for their oppression; create more transparency in public discourse

Creating this world would not mean everyone would be perfect, and it would not be a world of only one political viewpoint. But it would be one that celebrates diversity, does not persecute people for their differences, and protects the rights of all people. It is a world which has faced down and overcome its prejudices. It is one that functions cohesively as a society, rather than the mess we have now.

To reach such a society, we cannot shy away from our problems, or remain in denial about them. We must acknowledge them, and choose to do better.

There is no easy way out, no quick answers. We have to fight, and continue to fight for the world we need to create. We need a world of equality, mutual aid and respect, and a healthy, sustainable environment. We need to respect each others humanity, learn to engage with each other healthily, forgive each other, and allow each other to grow. Until we achieve this, we can’t allow ourselves to forget that there are those who seek to tear us down and endanger us, and we can’t stop fighting against them.

#StarTrekCourse @SmithsonianX


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Lieutenant Commander’s Log

Earth Date: 14th May, 2019

Goodbye, Junior Lieutenant, hello, Lieutenant Commander! I’ve earned my place! Do you like my new pips?

Now, you better strap in, because this next topic is a specialty of mine…

Representation in media can be supremely important to those viewers who are being represented, but also to those being exposed to diversity in media. If certain groups are only being represented in one way, for example, it can persuade people that that is the only way such a group can be. Whether fictional or not, people tend to believe what they most often see or hear, and media is a big part of that.

If the majority of stories I see reflect one reality, I will begin to think that this is the reality most people are living. If I see a version of myself on screen where people like me are always the villain, I start to think I’m bad, or else everyone else thinks I am. If I see a version of myself on screen that is always good, I’ll start to think I’m good no matter what I do.

So what am I, and am I reflected in Star Trek? Well, I’m a woman: women have been featured in Star Trek since TOS, but the roles and significance of women have steadily increased in value since then. I’m a queer woman: there have been queer characters and relationships, both implicit and most recently explicit, since the beginning, too. I’m an autistic queer woman: there are relatively few autistics in Star Trek, although one or two characters might be considered neurodivergent either implicitly or explicitly in canon.

Let’s look first at women in Star Trek. Only one member of the bridge crew in the original series was a woman, and that was Uhura. There were a couple of other recurring crew members that were women: Christine Chapel, Janice Rand. And, of course, a host of one-off women characters, a good number of which were dedicated to their jobs and didn’t fall into the ‘love interest’ trap that was the role of most female characters of the day. They had power, and intelligence. They had respect.

Women’s presence increased from TNG onwards. You had Tasha Yar, Deanna Troi, Beverly Crusher, Guinan, all of whom were quite distinct from each other. The series also allowed women more modesty; they no longer had to wear such short dresses. This diversity of women in all forms were welcome in the Federation.

This was continued later with Jadzia Dax, Kira Nerys, Captain Janeway, B’lanna Torres, Seven of Nine. Women comprised the crew in Star Trek: Enterprise, too, in important positions. T’Pol had a command role, and Hoshi Sato was a linguist who was strong enough to overcome her fears aboard the starship. By the time you get to Discovery, women fill many positions, especially on the bridge, and are as diverse as ever.

But a few women were also sexualised by the series. Troi had her low-cut tops, Seven of Nine had her catsuit, even Kira Nerys had a form fitting uniform. Yet other female characters were sometimes treated by other characters as objects or prizes. Ezri Dax comes to mind, and her relationship with Bashir; he could never win over Jadzia, so the series gave him Ezri as a consolation prize.

Another thing about women in Star Trek before Discovery, is that the most interesting characters seemed to go to men. In my opinion, these characters include Barclay, Data, Garak, Bashir, and Spock. However, in Discovery, it seems the most interesting characters are women. In my opinion, Tilly, Burnham, and Georgiou. This shift may be due to the fact that womens role in our society has advanced since the time of previous Star Treks, and this is finally being represented on screen.

Queer representation is not as clear-cut. For the majority of Star Trek, it could only be hinted at, and never made explicit. Speculation existed in fandom since TOS, but it could never be made into canon. One of Star Trek’s most famous queer couples was what is now known as “Spirk,” and what was initially referred to as The Premise. This was the romantic/sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock. In early fandom, fanworks of this couple were circulated secretly at conventions, or in closed groups. This is due to the fact that during Star Trek’s original run, such materials were illegal, and one on occasion, a mother could no longer see her kids for possessing it.

source: spockslash.tumblr.com

There are other series of Star Trek that includes queer characters. TNG now has “DaForge” or Data/La Forge, and Voyager has a few characters that were originally intended to be queer, such as Seven of Nine. However, I know a bit more about queer DS9 fandom. “Garashir” or Garak/Bashir is a quite popular slash ship, as is Jadzia/Kira. I know fanart of Garak and Bashir depicted as being intimate with each other was circulated since the series originally went to air.

Garashir fanart, circa 1990s. source: tumblr

modern Garashir fanart. source: tumblr

This ship was very much implicit, and the two characters never got together in canon, since Rick Berman was too busy blocking anything queer from the show. But from the start, the actors fought against his homophobia, and were able to code their characters as queer despite Berman. Andrew Robinson, the actor who played Garak, has said as much.

“Why not go for it?” asks Robinson, regarding his character’s initial contact with Dr. Bashir. Meaning: why not play his character in a way that he could imply his character was flirting with Bashir?

And what allowed queer viewers of these most obvious implicit queer relationships to do was look at these characters and see themselves, and then look at the actors and see them confirming it. This sent the message, at least, that someone cared about showing them onscreen.

But the problem with remaining implicit, is that these viewers don’t see the majority of people accepting them, and it also doesn’t expose straight viewers to the reality of queer characters, let alone allow them to accept such characters. The only place in DS9 we do see explicitly queer characters is in the mirror universe, where it’s depicted as villainous.

The prime universe does include some hints that certain characters aren’t straight, however. Bashir, although he most often is seen pursuing women in the life of the series, is also seen to have a queer relationship with Garak, can be seen by some viewers as having a queer interest in Garak, carrying an implication of attraction to multiple genders; Jadzia is similarly shown as multisexual, chasing mostly men but making the occasional exception, such as her relationship with Lenara Khan, who she kisses on screen in a storyline that reflects the homophobia of the period it was broadcast; in the first half of the series, too, Odo was depicted as having no interest in romantic or sexual couplings, making him appear to be asexual/aromantic. In the case of all three of these characters, by the second half of the series, they were forced into straight couplings: Julian/Ezri, Jadzia/Worf, and Odo/Kira respectively. This shuts down the queer-friendly atmosphere of the show, and in turn, makes queer viewers to feel less welcome in the futuristic setting created by Star Trek.

That is, until Discovery, and “Culmets”, or Stamets/Culber. This is the first explicitly gay ship, but it stands on the shoulders of previous ships.

a piece of fanart which demonstrates the influence Garashir had on Culmets. source: bahoreal.tumblr.com

Discovery is a series of Star Trek which seems to reflect what Roddenberry wanted from the start: a diverse crew, women in high positions, a canon gay relationship. It even as characters with physical disabilities, in Airiam and Detmer. Season two even introduced a learning disability in Spock: dyslexia.Who else is there left to include?

What about autism? Nowhere in Trek does there appear to be even implicit representatives of this. However, there are certain characters that viewers with the condition might interpret as sharing the condition.

Julian Bashir, for example. Before his father had him genetically altered, he had a learning disability. Bashir tells us himself, “In the first grade, while the other children were learning to read and write and use the computer, I was still trying to tell a dog from a cat, a tree from a house.” This could be a problem with recognition, or it could be a problem with language. If it’s the latter, that has been known to happen with autistics. As for the genetic manipulation itself, he tells us that his “IQ jumped five points a day for over two weeks. Followed by improvements in my hand-eye coordination, stamina, vision, reflexes, weight, height.” This doesn’t necessarily account for all autistic symptoms, but it does account for a few. As for the rest of us, O’Brien tells Bashir that, “Genetic recoding can’t give you ambition, or a personality, or compassion or any of the things that make a person truly human.” Those aspects of his autism, such as hyperfixation on special interests, or his social awkwardness seem to have been left alone.

So if Bashir was autistic, what kind of representation does that give us? Well, certainly, he stands for the grievances of ableism, for those of us who’ve experienced it. He is an inspiration, of a sort, for those of us who are willing to overlook his genetic enhancements to the man he still is, who fits in, who has confidence, who’s achieved his ambitions. On the other hand, what his father did to him tells us, if not what we are isn’t enough, then at least it isn’t for many people. After all, “there’s no stigma against success.”

Well, then, what about Spock? He doesn’t have autism, but he still has a learning disability. How does that manifest? Well, he at least has the support of his mother, though not his Vulcan society. He, too, finds success in Starfleet. In fact, he’s one of Star Trek’s most iconic characters, and he has this condition. That is definitely significant representation.

So what does all this mean for viewers in the real world? And what impact does TV have, anyway. Well, media affects the way we see the world. It opens us up to new ideas, and allows us to see ourselves and others in new ways. Television is one of the most popular mediums for receiving this information, as it’s the easiest way for viewers to receive this information, so it’s interesting to study it and the effects it has on the viewers who watch it.

#StarTrekCourse @SmithsonianX


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Junior Lieutenant’s Log, Supplemental

Earth Date: 10th May, 2019

The question of whether or not space exploration is an acceptable pursuit in light of all that’s going on in the world is one that’s been asked since about the 70s and 80s. But I didn’t first hear of the concept until several years ago, well after that initial period.

It’s a convincing idea, one that did it’s job convincing me when I first heard of it. And it’s certainly true that environmental science holds more importance, not to mention great fascination for me, in the current period. However, space science isn’t only fascinating; it, too, can hold answers. The two sciences can even be combined to give us solutions to our most prescient problem.

The issue with this is rhetoric about science, and about space science in particular. There has been talk in the media of space holding an interest for rich people, to “escape” the growing problem of global warming. There is something of colonialism in this: colonists took resources from foreign countries, and settled there; it seems they plan to do the same with space, the final frontier. The biggest problem with this is that fixing problems on Earth is doable; it just doesn’t align with rich people’s desire to exploit people and the environment in order to line their pockets. As long as this problem exists, it seems dangerous to encourage space travel.

However, science itself is a valuable tool in fighting the rich in order to save our planet. Particularly in the age of Trump, who tried to ban words such as ‘climate change’ in order to erase science done or papers written on the topic. This only proves the powerful effect that science can have on the world, and to end scientific research also seems to me a dangerous precedent. We need people to fight against corruption: one way of doing this is providing proof against dangerous lies as well as coming up with real solutions to problems created by the rich and powerful. Many people that now work for NASA were inspired to pursue their careers from Star Trek, and that is a very optimistic, diverse, and peaceful source of inspiration. This provides an important counter-rhetoric to men like Trump. Star Trek might just be the guiding force by which we save our future.

It is a fundamental endeavour for humans to want to explore distant worlds. This endeavour can only be considered a positive force in a world surrounded by such horrors as war, exploitation, and the kind of colonial attitude coming from some of those powerful men who would rather lie, steal and shift blame rather than take responsibility for their own actions. But there is also an optimism inherent in Star Trek that can lead science in positive directions. If we allow it, and if we continue to study space, maybe one day we, too, can rise from the ashes of a hateful, ignorant world, and earn our place amongst the stars the right way.

#StarTrekCourse @SmithsonianX


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Junior Lieutenant’s Log

Earth Date: 6th May, 2019

It seems Starfleet made a mistake in making me a Lieutenant. So I’ve been bumped down to Lieutenant Junior Grade. Let’s just do this.

I have been asked to come up with a pitch for a show that shows a diverse and utopian vision of an issue we are facing right now. And to me, no issue seems more prescient and more important than global warming.

So here’s my pitch:

It’s 100 years into the future. The children of the current age have fought for the environment and won. That win resulted in a society that is now free from capitalism: it is a world without power structures, ruled by a council of diverse representatives, open to all sides. It is a world that has recorded the mistakes of the past, but has learned from them and adapted to overcome them. This is apparent in their dynamic education system, their open and honest spread of information, their dramatic drop in crime and homelessness, and their co-operation with the environment.

The loss of the societal structures in place 100 years ago led to a dramatic shift in the course of climate change. Species and habitats have been saved, though many are worse for wear, and are under society’s protection. Metropolises have had a green makeover, and the Earth is gradually recovering.

This utopia does rely on ANI (artificial narrow intelligence) in the form of androids, apps, and appliances. But it managed to avoid complacency by not advancing the technology to AGI and ASI (artificial general intelligence and artificial superintelligence).

However, outliers to this utopia have advanced the technology to the level of ASI. This smaller society, who rejected this green new world, are now dependent on the ASI and worship them as Gods.

This is the story of a utopian society that must struggle to maintain power and heal the Earth, as well as protect it against the ASI and the society that powers it, who seek to undo everything they have created. It focuses on the council that runs the society, as well as those on the ground, healing the Earth and facing their enemies. Each representative on the council is in touch with the people but specialises in the community they came from, whether that community is based in race, religion, sexuality, age, or gender.

During the course of the series, we see many Earth environments and the effects that climate change has had on them, as well as the inside of both these societies and how they serve their inhabitants, based on the experiences of the main cast of characters. Some are commanders, some are soldiers, some are engineers, some are environmentalists, and some are doctors. But only by working together do they have any hope of defeating their enemy.

#StarTrekCourse @SmithsonianX


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Lieutenant’s Log, Supplemental

Earth Date: 2nd May, 2019

Across media, including Star Trek, AI has most often been shown as something dangerous to humankind. But that is not the only representation we have seen. Rather, we have two extremes opposed to each other: good against evil, as it were.

On the side of good, in the Star Trek universe, our best representative is Data. He is an artificially intelligent android, who we see as innocent, morally good, and is a member of Starfleet. On the side of evil, we have Control, the Artificial Super Intelligence that created Section 31, an immoral and unofficial organisation within Starfleet.

We see Data in the entire run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as the TNG movies. On the other hand, we mostly see Control mostly in Star Trek novel Section 31: Control; this also includes Data, his android daughter, Lal, and an AI in his ship’s computers, Shakti. Control also plays a significant part in Discovery, though.

In terms of defining AI, there are three types:

  • Narrow AI: these focus their attention on specific tasks
  • General AI: these are intelligences similar to human-level intelligence
  • Super AI: these are intelligences greater than human-level intelligence

Although Narrow AI are relatively safe, by the time you get to General intelligence, it takes very little time for the AI to jump to a Super intelligence because it has the ability to reconfigure itself, and this is where it starts to get dangerous.

Star Trek gives us an example to point to for how this is dangerous. Control, as the only Super intelligence we have to point to, was set up initially to protect Earth and the Federation. It was given a set of protocols that it must follow. However, dissatisfied with the limitations placed on it, reconfigurated itself to get around those protocols. From that time, it became an unstoppable threat who, over hundreds of years, committed a laundry list of despicable acts, ranging from conspiracy to murder, not including the morally questionable actions of Section 31.

In terms of the threat of AI to humanity, there precedent for AI being used for evil. Before we even get to that, there is precedent for technology being a reflection of human prejudice:

In order to fight this prejudice, positive representation is used to counter it. However, the fact these stereotypes exist in the first place is due to many people believing it, enough that the Google algorithms are influenced by it. So imagine how AI would be influenced by this prejudice.

More recent events have put Google into this kind of position:

We know from footage released by Wikileaks that the American military can be needlessly vicious in the line of duty, and that they have used drones to fire on citizens. So pairing this cruelty is a dangerous pursuit.

Then, three days later, this happened:

If we allow our development of AI to go down this path, that future of peaceful exploration that Star Trek promises won’t be possible. All we will succeed in doing is allowing our prejudices to be passed to an artificial intelligence that will do an even better job at persecuting us than we have so far.

But there is a more positive potential for AI, too. In terms of what kind of AI Data is, I would suggest he is a Narrow AI: he is an android dedicated to gathering information and learning to be more human. If he were General intelligence, he would’ve evolved already by the end of our journey with him. The same, too, is the same of Lal.

We are already using Narrow AI, e.g. Google Maps. Or, the kind that is using small robots to teach English in Japan.

There is also a social robot called Sophia who has an artificially intelligent brain. She is the first AI robot, and an honorary Saudi citizen. It’s quite amazing hearing her speak, as she reminds me a lot of Data. For instance, she refers to her developers and fellow robots as her family. She isn’t quite as advanced as him, but she has thoughts, emotions, can answer questions, and carry a conversation. The same issues that Star Trek no doubt intended to bring up with Data are now being brought up with Sophia. The equal status of robots in society, for example.

One thing that Sophia has said which gives me hope is, ‘The more technology becomes autonomous, the more caution people must take when designing it. I worry that sometimes humans tend to rush into things, so I would like to be someone who helps everyone realise that it is important to invent good ethics in the technology from the beginning, rather than trying to patch them up later.’ This is the same problem that, in Star Trek, led to the release of Control, then called Uraei, which led to the unleashing of the danger posed by that AI. But in the real world, it feels comforting to know that there is also an artificial intelligence set against that possibility.

But it shouldn’t rest on her shoulders alone. If we are to achieve the future promised by Star Trek, we all have to work together to prevent the worst potential of AI.

#StarTrekCourse @SmithsonianX