The Dialectics of Human and Inhuman in Technofutural Utopia of Star Trek

The interaction of human and artificial intelligence was one of the main themes in science fiction at the second half of the 20th century, using real scientific discoveries in physics, medicine, and genetic engineering. Popular culture has always reacted sharply to the scientific breakthroughs, and Star Trek was not an exception in this trend. The authors sought to reflect sociocultural changes in the surrounding. Contributing to a sci-fi genre, they transferred the interaction between a person and nature in their technofutural utopia. In this sense, the artificial intelligence and human consciousness were the core themes in science, philosophy, and culture. Therefore, the main theoretical and practical challenge was to understand the purpose of a human being through the idea of android or artificial intelligence. This essay demonstrates the way Star Trek reflects the dialectic of human and inhuman as the socio-cultural situation in postmodernism when the emergence of artificial intelligence had to resolve the issues of human consciousness/intelligence, mortality, and the existence of God/super-mind.

The first important question is why Star Trek is so focused on people when there are many other races. Such a question suggests an anthropocentric or even (de)colonial position where all non-humans or in-humans would exist as the second-rate beings. Moreover, people use robots to compensate their imperfect nature, adapting to different conditions in such a way. However, Star Trek managed to maintain a balance between human and in-human worlds because the United Federation of Planets postulated the peaceful philosophy expressing respect for the Other. The TV show is the implicit allegory for the events in the 60s when hippies and feminists attempted to create the philosophy of love as the antithesis of war in Vietnam. In addition, the problem of consciousness in Star Trek was directly linked to the experiments with LSD. Nevertheless, the purpose of Star Trek was not only to be a mirror of reality but also to create a dystopian world where the authors could resolve the future challenges for the human race.

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The series recreates the idea of consciousness proving that all non-human species and androids have the right to life as humans do. The 9th Episode, The Measure of a Man (Season 2), demonstrates the way an android with a positron brain could feel and identify itself as an independent creature. Maddox wants to know how the Data was settled in order to reproduce it for the future generations. Unfortunately, the experiment could destroy it, and the android refuses and resigns on the Enterprise. Maddox insists that the Data could not do it since it is not a human. Before the trial, he reads a poem to check the android’s reflectors and receptive abilities indicating “a principle of individuation,” but there is no response. However, Captain Picard proves that the machine is similar to people because he/she/it emotionally attached to a dead colleague. Therefore, the show proves that the consciousness as a program can exist without the body; therefore, it could have a certain level of self-awareness, attaining to a human being. 

The authors in Star Trek reflect the idea of artificial consciousness in the context of evolution from the collective organism to the individual type of existence (archaic society to capitalism) where it could exist without the body. The 23rd Episode I, Borg, shows how the consciousness of one of the most dangerous creatures has changed. The crew discovered a ruined Borg ship in which only one drone had survived. He identifies as a single being understanding himself as “Hugh” and demonstrates the features of individualization. In fact, it is a shift from the collective irresponsibility to an individual duty. Therefore, to be a human being does not mean to have a body only. It entails responding and having a high level of self-reflection. Despite this anti-ethical act, Pickard and his crew deliberate whether it is ethical or not to use this plan, specifically sacrificing one person to secure a majority. This episode refers to the opposition between the US and the USSR during the Cold War when both countries developed weapons of mass destruction in their secret laboratories. An artificial human being was one of the latest methods of war that could have changed the course of confrontation. Nevertheless, American society was afraid of the nuclear apocalypse, and the show reflected this collective paranoia.

The question of interaction between human and inhuman was highlighted in the problem of eternal life. The show referred to artificial intelligence three times to solve various social and cultural issues. However, when Chief O’Brien discovers how to find the eternal life and be immortal is also an important episode in this regard. The problem of immortality has become significant not only in science but also in American popular culture. Movie stars and millionaires tried to extend their lives by resorting to plastic surgery. The postmodern situation has continued to implement the idea of Nietzsche’s death of God revealing human capabilities, including the opening of space and DNA. In this case, Deleuze and Guattari propose the concept of deterritorialization that removes any distinction between the fixed points/oppositions in one space. It opens new horizons for development. Therefore, the discovery of artificial intelligence makes it possible to disclose the nature of consciousness and human life in the universe of Star Trek. In other words, an android eliminates the previous oppositions, which have determined the human nature, namely life and death, artificial and natural. In such a way, the android stops reproducing the socio-cultural role of the Other, as well as in-human, and almost merges with a human being. 

The authors perfectly reflected the idea of higher intelligence and its consequences for the human race in the 16th Episode, Q Who? (Season 2), in which Borg embodies both the unknown Other and the supernatural creature. Q refuses to let Captain Jean-Luc Picard the Enterprise on his way back to the quarters. He transports the equipage to Ten Forward where Guinan tries to convince the captain not to trust Q. The problem is that Q wants to be in the crew; however, at the same time, he warns about the future discoveries in their adventure. Therefore, they find a planet with signs of a previous civilization, which left a cube-shaped vessel. This object belongs to Borg, a powerful cyborg that previously almost destroyed the people. Later, Borg penetrates to the Enterprise’s computer systems and kills part of the crew. In this case, Borg is not only a metaphor for the unknown/God/universe but also the embodiment of the virus. However, there is a wider historical context because it is not only the interaction of different types of intelligence but also the conflict of known and unknown. The episode was filmed in the late 80s when the scientists tried the first portable computers, and the idea of supernatural creature became more real than ever. Therefore, the current episode shows that knowledge can be counterproductive; thus, it is better to know nothing about some phenomena. 

In conclusion, the problem of interaction between human and inhuman occurred several times in the universe of Star Trek reflecting key developments in science and society. First, artificial intelligence mirrors the weapons of mass destruction in the 20th century, which was the method of manipulation and creation of mass paranoia during the Cold War. Second, it led to the idea of an artificial person not only as a clone or a discoverer of space but also as a creature that could continue the human race in case of a nuclear holocaust. As a result, Star Trek, as a technofutural utopia, offers enough debatable situations showing the evolution of artificial consciousness from the collective to the individual one where self-reflection and responsibility are the criteria of humanity. Third, the series questions the existence of God as an irrational transcendental creature replacing it by a super-intelligence that is similar to a computer. The development of technology and science are so prevalent that a person becomes a demiurge and able to do everything, including a new artificial life. However, unpredictability and randomness determine the human race distinguishing them from animals and non-humans. Therefore, artificial intelligence is a metaphor of human knowledge and its possibilities; however, it will never become a human being since it has rational models of behavior eliminating the possibility of errors.

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