To say that technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the last twenty-five years would be a gross understatement. Society has gone from dial-up to wifi in little under a generation, and if leading minds such as Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates are to be believed, artificial intelligence, or A.I., is one of the greatest threats humanity will face in the coming years.
Thankfully, civilization will have a blueprint for fighting rogue A.I. if it does its research, namely, watching reruns of the original Star Trek series. From androids to supercomputers, Captain Kirk and his crew have faced and defeated them all!
Although the disembodied psyches of Sargon, Henoch, and Thalassa were biological in origin, the millennia they spent in their orbs as well as their desire to populate android bodies qualifies them as artificial intelligence. What defined them as menaces were their telepathy abilities and propensities to take over people’s bodies at a whim. Although Sargon was benevolent, Henoch wished to keep Spock’s body as his own and even tempted Thalassa to betray her former husband. Fortunately, a timely intervention by the command crew defeated Henoch, and Sargon and Thalassa shared a kiss before consigning themselves to oblivion.
9 Mudd’s Androids
The most famous android in Star Trek lore may be Lieutenant Commander Data from Next Generation fame, but he wasn’t the first android on the Enterprise. One of the early appearances of rogue androids came from the original series episode, “I, Mudd,” where noted galactic criminal Harcourt Fenton Mudd managed to take over a planet of them.
He then used them to lure the Enterprise to the planet to exact revenge on Captain Kirk. The crew of the Enterprise managed to escape by overwhelming the androids with problems in logic, leaving Mudd stranded on the planet with an android of his shrewish wife.
In “Return of the Archons” the Enterprise investigates the disappearance of the USS Archon over Beta III a century earlier. When the landing party comes back brainwashed by the planet’s enigmatic leader, Landru, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock beam down to investigate. Discovering a civilization repressed by its ruler, the away team looks for a way to free its landing party from Landru’s control, which causes him to attack the Enterprise with powerful heat beams that will destroy the ship in hours. Eventually, Landru is revealed to be the projection of a 6000-year-old computer left there by the planet’s previous inhabitants. Kirk convinces the computer to self-destruct, and the Enterprise is saved.
Supercomputers that get their kicks running primitive humanoid societies are quite the common trope in Star Trek. In the second season episode, “The Apple,” an Enterprise landing party discovers a pre-historic, almost Neolithic society that seemingly lives only to service their god, Vaal, who appears as a reptilian frontispiece on the exterior of a cave. In return for their service, Vaal provides them with food, shelter, and protects them from aging and disease. Revealed to be a supercomputer, Vaal captures the landing party and attacks the Enterprise, before being defeated by exhausting its power reserves. Freed from their servitude, the natives of the planet are taught how to live free lives by the Enterprise crew.
One of the most memorable guest characters in the original series was Dr. Richard Daystrom, a brilliant scientist who invented a computer system that was able to think and reason like a human being. Named the M-5, this computational system was so advanced, it was put in charge of the Enterprise’s main computer in order to test its capabilities.
Obviously, the system went awry, destroying and damaging several other starships during a war games simulation. Once again, Captain Kirk was able to convince the system to destroy itself by presenting it with a problem in logic and morality; something he had obvious experience with by this point!
5 Dr. Roger Korby
Androids also figured prominently in the episode, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” Here, the imminent and reclusive scientist, Dr. Roger Korby, plans to use android duplicates of key Starfleet personnel to take over the galaxy. He begins by replacing Captain Kirk with a duplicate while keeping the original prisoner.
Korby’s android technology is based on what he found on the planet Exo-III, complete with its own centuries-old model named Ruk. Aghast at what he’s planning and the man he’s become, his fiancé, Nurse Chapel, disavows him before he is defeated and revealed to be an android himself.
While investigating a distress call from the Malurian star system, the Enterprise discovers that all four billion inhabitants have disappeared. Coming under attack from an enemy that dwarfs them in firepower, the crew discovers that the entity responsible for the deaths of four billion people was a probe approximately one meter in length.
Calling itself Nomad, the probe reveals that its function is to seek out and eliminate any biological infestation it finds imperfect. Mistaking Captain Kirk for its creator Dr. Roykirk, the captain is able to convince Nomad of its own imperfection, destroying itself before it can destroy the Enterprise.
3 The Guardian of Forever
The Guardian of Forever was rather nebulous about its origins as either biological or mechanical entity, stating it was “both, and neither,” but considering its function as a time portal, it’s safe to say it didn’t originate organically. Although it doesn’t figure prominently as an active antagonist, The Guardian’s misuse by Dr. McCoy did manage to wipe out most of human history, which makes it an extremely dangerous artificial intelligence.
Thankfully, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were able to undo Dr. McCoy’s time-traveling snafu, though it forced the captain to make an extremely difficult decision regarding the fate of Edith Keeler, a woman he had fallen in love with in the past.
2 The Probe
The Star Trek films introduced some of the most powerful alien forces the crew of the original Enterprise ever faced. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Federation was besieged by an alien intelligence that was so powerful, it disabled whole ships and starbases simply through its efforts to communicate.
The Probe, as it became known, was an artificial intelligence attempting to establish contact with humpback whales on Earth. Unfortunately, by the 23rd century, they were extinct. Thankfully, a timely intervention by a time-traveling Enterprise crew brought a pair of whales to the future, saving the Earth and the Federation from imminent destruction.
The most destructive artificial intelligence the crew of the Enterprise ever faced was V’Ger, the alien antagonist of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. An alien cloud of almost immeasurable power, V’Ger was able to destroy space vessels and stations at a whim and was on a direct course for Earth.
Captain Kirk and his crew discovered that V’Ger was actually the remnants of an old Earth probe, Voyager 6, that had been refitted by an alien civilization of sentient machines to learn as much as it could and return home. V’Ger’s merging with a human being, Captain Decker, resulted in both the birth of a new life form and the preservation of the Earth.
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