TREK-A-DAY: The Ultimate Computer
EPISODE FIFTY-TWO: The Ultimate Computer
Two recipes for disaster:
1) War games.
2) “We’re going to give control of the ship over to an untested super computer for a while.”
This fun and -frankly- exciting, episode has both! It’d be like activating SkyNet during Top Gun. Starfleet’s top computer science guy has built the M4, a new super computer which is going to run drills during said war games. We get a number of fun plotlines running through this episode, such as Kirk’s fear that he can be replaced by technology and the inventor’s love for his AI child. Given the state of computer technology at the time, this was a fantastic little piece of ‘science’ fiction in its truest sense: a look ahead at the possible challenges of tomorrow (our today, right Siri? “YOU HAVE A BLACKBERRY, TOM. WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO FIND YOU A PHONE THAT IS SIRI COMPATABLE?”…a guy can dream…)
Anyway, things really get hairy when the M4 decides it’s running the show (the programmer imprinted human ideas in order to make it more efficient) and that it must protect itself at all costs. These costs include another Starfleet vessel’s entire crew (The Excaliber, later featured in both The Next Generation and Voyager) and the possible threat of death by Starfleet attack. Kirk manages to convince the computer (using the programmer’s own moral code) that it deserves to die for the murder it has caused, leading to a safe resolution.
There’s a bit of Terminator 2 in here, with the ‘teaching the computer to love’ stuff as well as the first appearance of an actual star fleet (four ships!) the pace is fast, the stakes are raised well, and the wild-card programmer (who both wanted to stop the death of red shirts during routine exploration AND show his asshole colleagues he was still the best at computering) make for a tense and enjoyable episode.