Friday, April 01, 2022

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 24 (The Ultimate Computer)

People are prone to mistakes.  Computers, we’re told, aren’t.  People might push the wrong button, but computers will execute instructions perfectly.  That’s where M-5 comes in.  It’s the latest creation of Dr. Richard Daystrom, a genius in artificial intelligence.  The M-5 computer can operate an entire starship with minimal crew, allowing those that would be needed to do less-dangerous work.

Captain Kirk doesn’t like it.  Dr. McCoy doesn’t like it.  Spock at least defends the computer, but is mostly interested in seeing how it performs.  At first, it performs well.  The initial test maneuver seems to go well enough.  It becomes increasingly clear, though, that the machine is a threat.  It even kills an ensign who was ordered to shut it off.  That doesn’t look good for the M-5.

To make matters worse, the Enterprise is set to go up against four other ships in what’s supposed to be a war game.  Those on the other ships think there will be simulated fire, but the M-5 destroys an automated ship that it wasn’t supposed to.  There’s no way to warn those on the other ships, making it look like Kirk is acting out because he might be out of a job.

In the end, M-5 stands down and the day is saved.  Thousands of Starfleet officers won’t be out of a job just yet.  However, one does wonder to what end automation is good for.  Sure, you can send probes and whatnot to chart planets.  However, at some point, you’d think someone would have to beam down to a planet. 

There are some things you can’t automate.  First contact is made by people.  It also doesn’t do a lot of good to discover new planets just to know about them.  Find an interesting planet and someone’s going to want to see it.

Also, as Daystrom found out the hard way, a computer is only as good as its programming.  There still needs to be someone calling the shots.  Machines don’t have the compassion or wisdom of a person.

It does seem odd that they’d use the flagship.  I probably would have used a smaller ship to test and maybe have the Enterprise come to the rescue.  One thing about Star Trek is that machines always fail spectacularly.  (Yes, it makes for good drama, but it does wear thin at times.)

There are those that will resist progress.  Progress doesn’t always mean better, though.  As Spock points out, computers are merely more efficient.  This doesn’t mean that they’re desirable or better.  It’s worth noting that neither Daystrom nor M-5 are villains.  They weren’t acting out of malice.  However, it was right to question them in this context.  Automation isn’t always the way to go.


 IMDb page

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