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What Measure Is A Non Human / Star Trek

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  • The standard Star Trek Aesop was that all sentient races should be treated equal. Kirk didn't kill the Gorn commander, even though the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens had set them up to fight to the death and the Reptiles Are Abhorrent trope is common in scifi.
    • Another iconic example from The Original Series was the episode "The Devil in The Dark", where Federation miners were being attacked by a monster and they asked the Enterprise to help them find the creature and kill it. Despite the alien's very non-human appearance, it turns out that A) it is sentient, B) it only started attacking the miners when they carelessly destroyed several of its eggs, and C) it is actually quite friendly, and willing to help if the miners would stop doing that. To their credit the human miners are horrified to discover they've been killing alien babies and are willing to forgive the monster for killing several of their own.
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    • Played straight in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" with the psychic Gary Mitchell, in a case of Early Installment Weirdness. Even before Gary has actually done anything threatening, Kirk and Spock are ready to kill him because he might be a serious threat if his powers keep growing.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation explored this question, primarily with the android Data:
    • In "The Measure Of A Man," he is the subject of a hearing by the Judge Advocate General of Starfleet to determine his legal status: is he property or a person? The judge mentioned that they were "dancing around the basic issue -does Data have a soul?", which she concluded could not be proven or disproven, just as it could not be proven or disproven for humans and other organic sentiments. The episode was clear about the precedent being set, noting that if Data could be mass-produced, denying the sentience of androids would lead to a slave race. Voyager later showed this is exactly what happened with the EMH holograms — opening up a Plot Hole by not really exploring why the precedent of Data's hearing was ignored.
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    • Later episodes on the topic featured Data defending the right of other artificial sentients to live, and the question of Data's "daughter" Lal and his parental rights concerning her.
    • The episode "The Quality of Life" dealt with it as well. A scientist invented "Exocomps", droid-like multipurpose tools with sophisticated AI. Occasionally an Exocomp would start to exhibit odd behavior, such as disobeying commands that would put it in danger. This leads Data to suggest that the Exocomps are becoming self-aware. Their inventor disagrees and wants to erase their memory and start over. The episode treats the question seriously and concluded that there was no easy answer.
    • "I Borg" asks the question "What Measure is a Borg?": the Enterprise comes across a lone Borg unit who was the sole survivor of a crash, where they learn a great deal more about the differences between Borg and individualistic organics, posing the question of whether this Borg should be treated as an individual deserving of life as anyone else, or be used as computer virus carrier to weaponize against the Borg. Picard and Guinan, both of whom have good reason to despise the Borg, find themselves faced with hard questions regarding their Borg captive's humanity. All the while, the Borg is forced to contemplate the prospect that it is not just part of a collective, but an independent individual.
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    • In the episode "Silicon Avatar," Picard attempts to contact and reason with a giant silicon entity that has stripped planets of life and once attacked the ship. Sadly, the question of if a being that has caused untold destruction should have rights and should it be considered good or evil if it is just stripping planets to survive was unanswered, since a rogue scientist on the Enterprise destroyed it.
    • In "Inheritance", Data meets his mother, Juliana Tainer (formerly Juliana Soong). It later turns out that she is an android too, created by his father to appear totally human and with the copied memories and personality of the original Juliana (who died after slipping into a coma), but she is unaware of this fact. When Data accesses the holographic message his father left in Juliana's positronic brain and confronts him about not telling her what she really is, Dr. Soong makes his feelings on the matter clear:
    Data: Then... you do not believe she should know the truth?.
    Dr Soong: Truth... the truth is, in every way that matters, she is Juliana Soong.
    • The episode "Evolution" dealt with a colony of nanomachines that evolved greatly after they escaped Wesley Crusher's containment and began messing with the Enterprise. A scientist that was on board the Enterprise continuously demanded their destruction, mostly because they were screwing around with his experiment and he was on a strict time table. Ultimately, the nanomachines and the scientist comes to an understanding and the nanites are dropped off on an uninhabited world to evolve on their own.
    • The treatment of duplicates in Trek is even more schizophrenic. Just to examine two episodes featuring Riker:
      • In "Up the Long Ladder", the crew encounters the Mariposans, a planet whose hat is reproduction through cloning, but the replicative fading (a real phenomenon) is starting to catch up to them. After the crew declines to willingly donate, they rip off DNA from Riker and Pulaski by force and erase their memories of it. When this is discovered, Riker and Pulaski (a doctor!) find the lab and blithely massacre the developing duplicates. Riker states that the clones' existence "diminishes" him.
      • In "Second Chances", the crew discovers another Riker (who comes to use "Thomas", his middle name), created unknowingly by a transporter accident early in Will Riker's career and just before he broke up with Dianna in order to accept a promotion based on his heroism during that very mission. Due to the nature of the technology, there's no question that they really are both the "original" Riker. Despite being a pleasant and charming guy, Riker doesn't get along with himself. Will sees in Tom a preserved version of a less mature time in his life, reminding him of all his flaws and making him second guess the choices he's made in the years since that mission. Tom resents Will for getting to live the life he dreamed of while marooned and, now that he's been rescued, for crowding him out of returning to his own life (especially when it comes to pursing a relationship with the woman he's been pining for that whole time). Overall, they develop a relationship not unlike (tense) brothers and Tom leaves to build a new life.
  • Star Trek: Voyager explored the rights of the holographic doctor, including his right to have a say in his treatment.
    • In "Latent Image", rather than delete months of his memory (and personality), Janeway eventually allowed him to work through psychological problems that could have kept him out of Sickbay for weeks or even months — despite the risk this might pose to the crew. Janeway had initially decided to just reboot the Doc, but changed her mind upon talking to Seven of Nine. When Janeway pointed out that the Doc was more like a replicator than a human, Seven pointed out that she, too, being Borg, was composed of parts not unlike the replicator, and wondered whether Janeway would eventually override her free will as well.
    • In "Author, Author", the Doctor had written a novel and submitted a draft, pre-editing, that the publisher thought was delightfully salacious in the way it seemed to impugn the Voyager crew, and promptly started distributing. The Doctor sued to have it stopped; the publisher argued he couldn't sue because he wasn't a person. One might expect someone to look through Starfleet's records and discover that an artificial being that has intelligence that can improve itself, have sex, and express itself artistically is a person, as Data was found to be so in the second season of The Next Generation. This was done again with polymorphic tools called Exocomps that were proven to have gained low-level intelligence and were excellent problem-solvers. Admittedly, ruling that the Doctor was a person would open the door to ruling the same for Mark I EMHs all over the Federation, who had by then been consigned to slavery and manual labor (that is to say, one of the things Picard was trying to prevent); meanwhile, there was only one Data. It gets even less justifiable when you consider that the Doctor is essentially a Projected Android. Ultimately the judge ruled the Doctor was an author, which gave him rights to his work, but left the issue of his personhood for some later court to decide.
      • One particularly notable difference between Data and the Doctor is that Data was specifically created to be a free and independent being. Newly activated EMH-1s clearly aren't sentient, but they are adaptive so they can become sentient if left active long enough, which you're not supposed to do (the "E" stands for emergency after all). It is virtually impossible to tell when a hologram crosses the line between complex machine programmed to mimic human behavior and actual person. Viewers are reminded that the other side has a point when a Knight Templar hologram freedom fighter murders two innocent people to "liberate" three holograms who are unquestionably nothing more than mindless machines.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The main villains are the Jem'hadar, genetically-engineered super-soldiers. They're bred to be obedient and violent, and there are an awful lot of them. Their main purpose is to get killed in hand-to-hand battles. Every once in a while we meet an individual Jem'hadar who acts almost like an ordinary person, and our heroes pause to consider their dignity. Of course, since the majority of the Jem'hadar encountered by Our Heroes are enemy combatants, the question is largely academic.
    • Their creators are, interestingly, large proponents of "What Measure Is A Non-Changeling." Basically they're a race of sapient goop who, due to some bad experiences in the past, have come to the logical conclusion that the solid races all need to be controlled and will treat all solids as essentially cattle that needs to be corralled.... which runs them not only against the Federation, but against Odo, the primary Changeling character on the show.
    • One episode had a direct Take That! to "Up the Long Ladder", where Odo points out while arresting a criminal who had faked his own death that killing your own clone is still murder. In the course of figuring out the crime, Bashir creates another clone (it's the only way to identify a suspect genetic sample). Once it's clear the clone is of a sentient (a Bajoran), it's flatly stated that it will be grown to maturity and treated like any other citizen.
      • This suggests that under Federation law, a clone is granted all the rights of a sentient being when it is activated. Destroying a clone that has not yet been activated, like Riker and Pulaski did, might be seen as the moral and legal equivalent of discarding a frozen embryo (Word of God is that the writer of that episode was deliberately including a pro-choice Aesop).
      • There is also some wiggle room to explain the contradictory legal positions as the DS9 episode uses Bajoran law rather than Federation law; the two systems might differ in their views on clones.
  • There's an interesting mission in Star Trek Online. It deals with a Ferengi wanting a hologram program to complete his collection. He asks you to persuade another person to give him a copy. However, it's not a humanoid being, but rather a photonic being who holds the program. The rest of the mission is a small part about seeing photonic lifeforms as sentient. So in the future of the Prime timeline, photonic beings do gain some rights. Come to think of it, you can get a photonic bridge officer as well. One of the loading screens mentions that the Doctor ended up driving the issue to the Federation Supreme Court, which did indeed decide that he was a person.
  • In Spock's World by Diane Duane, Kirk is chatting with a friendly AI named Moira, who lampshades this trope. Kirk doesn't seem to mind having a sentient computer onboard, but he knows Starfleet might pull such a computer's plugs, so he orders Moira to keep it secret.
    ""Your intelligence is just electrons," she said, "the same as mine. You're just electrons... the same as me. You always seemed too intelligent to be a protein chauvinist, Captain."