Monday, June 27, 2005

Maybe the Borg are the Good-Guys.

As promised:

Have you ever considered that the Federation in Star Trek could be a version of 23rd century christianist right wingers? In a post a few weeks ago, Ethical Werewolf displayed a letter he received from Matt Yglesias in which the topic of Star Trek economics is raised.

My hypothesis is that Star Trek exists in a computronium based economy. I don’t know the science, but I think this would explain the fact that complex items can be transported but not replicated. It could be like a telephone, in that a telephone would have existed independently of the ability to make sound recording using electromagnetics. Since replicators rely on the computer system of the ship to store their template, rather then disassembling small parts of the original and then reassembling before moving onto the next part, the storage and computational capacity of the computer could become an issue.

But with the introduction of bio-neural gel packs, it seems to be possible to store something with the complexity of a human intelligence inside a ship’s computer. The Emergency Medical Hologram on Voyager is a holo-sentience. In addition, downloading a mind seems to be a task simple enough for an out-law scientist operating in isolation, the equivalent of a mountain hermit, to achieve. Data’s creator Noonien Soong downloaded the consciousness of his wife into an android.

But Noonien did have an advantage over an ordinary hermit: he was genetically modified. Genetic modification is against the law in the Federation. This is because in their history, a genetically modified human named Khan took over almost all of Asia around the end of the twentieth century. After his defeat, a third world war was fought between the Eastern Powers and the West, which the West won. Disagreement over genetic manipulation may have been the casus belli.

So the Feds have a seemingly irrational fear of modification of humans. Data is only allowed to hang around because he is purely non-human. Jordy is the only cyborg, and even then he had to lose his sight naturally to qualify for modification. Genetic engineering is grounds for being ostracized from society. So it is only natural that the Feds would object to steps that would lead towards the downloading of humanity into faster thinking and more efficient computer-based holo-beings.

The Federation is so close to computer consciousness that an engineer who is trying to design an emergency doctor hologram practically invents artificial intelligence by accident. Indeed, it seems possible that Zimmerman was ordered or had to artificially hamper the program’s learning ability in order to avoid creating an artificial intelligence, as the EMH is supposed to start losing memory after 1500 hours. This problem was apparently small enough to be eliminated by the crew of a small ship isolated from communication within a few weeks, suggesting an artificial origin. The whole Daystrom Institute, which sent an agent to potentially sabotage or destroy Data, seems like a way to monitor and control genetically engineered scientists to take advantage of some of their talents while steering them away from “dangerous” research. Bio-neural gel packs seem to be able to store complexity on such a large scale that they are able to maintain not only the ordinary duties of running all aspects of a star ship, but also to store and operate the sentience of the EMH. So downloading of human intelligence seems only a hop skip and jump away, especially considering transporter technology, even for non-genetically modified humans.

The Federation could probably transform humanity into near omnipotent Q like beings if it chose to download our consciousnesses into computers and use the holographic/forcefield technologies instead of meat-bodies. Maybe the Borg are a species that didn’t go down this path of extremist species purity, experimenting with genetic modification early on, “assimilating” new species simply by sampling their genetic material and adopting interesting and inventive new genes. By the 24th century they have advanced technology and probably have largely abandoned organic tissue, but keeping the old meat bodies around as convenient sources of material and platforms for tools. They probably have a virtual existence in the collective, leaving their hollowed out shells outside to perform menial tasks. They may view assimilation as the preservation of distinctiveness since they are transporting consciousnesses from vulnerable meat bodies into the quasi-immortal computer network at their core.

The seeming zombie like quality of the Borg then becomes a sign of liberation from organic flesh into a sort of spirit existence. Maybe Seven of Nine’s actual consciousness is happily enjoying life (?) in a virtual Eden inside the computer network at the core of the Borg civilization, the hollow shell left may be modified to serve as a tool for exploration. Most of the organic consciousness generating mechanisms may be left intact but adapted or deactivated to prevent distress and make the Borg drone more efficient. When a drone does have an accidental reactivation of certain areas of its organic consciousness generating mechanisms, the resulting distress and disorientation is only natural and may be misinterpreted by other organic consciousnesses.


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