Data, and the nature of sentience
In a 1989 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Commander Bruce Maddox has orders to disassemble the android, Data, for scientific study. Data refused Starfleet’s orders to undergo the procedure, and argued his case in court. The following is an excerpt of the trial:
PICARD: Commander Maddox, it is your contention that Data is not a sentient being and therefore not entitled to those rights reserved for all other life-forms in this Federation?
MADDOX: Data is not sentient, no.
PICARD: Why, Commander?
MADDOX: Because Data is a piece of outstanding engineering and programming.
PICARD: What is required for sentience?
MADDOX: Intelligence, self awareness, consciousness.
PICARD: Do you know what sentience is, Commander?
MADDOX: Of course.
PICARD: Excellent. Then you can enlighten the rest of us. Prove to this court that I'm sentient.
MADDOX: This is absurd!
PICARD: Why? Because you can't do it?
MADDOX: No, it's just pointless. We all know you're sentient.
PICARD: So I'm sentient, but Data isn't?
MADDOX: That's right.
MADDOX: Well... well, you're self aware.
PICARD: Ah, the second ingredient. But let's deal with the first requirement. Is Data intelligent?
MADDOX: It has the ability to learn and understand, and to cope with new situations.
PICARD: Like this hearing. What about self awareness. What does that mean? Why am I self aware?
MADDOX: Because you are conscious of your existence and actions. You're aware of yourself and your own ego.
PICARD: Data, what are you doing now?
DATA: I am taking part in a legal hearing to determine my rights
and status. Am I property or person?
PICARD: And what's at stake?
DATA: My right to choose. Perhaps my very life.
PICARD: My rights. My status. My right to choose. My life. He seems pretty damn self aware to me. Well, Commander Maddox, I'm waiting.
MADDOX: This is exceedingly difficult...
PICARD: Do you like Data?
MADDOX: I don't know it well enough to like or dislike it.
PICARD: But you admire him?
MADDOX: Oh yes, it's an outstanding --
PICARD: (interrupting) Piece of engineering and programming. Yes, you've said
that. You've devoted your life to the study of cybernetics in general?
PICARD: And Data in particular?
PICARD: And now you're proposing to dismantle him.
MADDOX: So I can rebuild him and construct more!
PICARD: How many more?
MADDOX: Hundreds, thousands. There's no limit.
PICARD: And do what with them?
MADDOX: Use them.
MADDOX: As effective units on Federation ships. As replacements for humans in dangerous situations. So much is closed to us because of our fragility. But they...
PICARD: (interrupting; he picks up an object and throws it down a disposal chute) Are expendable.
MADDOX: It sounds harsh but to some extent, yes.
PICARD: Are you expendable, Commander Maddox? Never mind. A single Data is a curiosity, a wonder, but a thousand Datas, doesn't that become a new race? And aren't we going to be judged as a species about how we treat these creations? If they're expendable, disposable, aren't we? What is Data?
MADDOX: What? I don't understand.
PICARD: What... is... he?
MADDOX: (angry now and hostile) A machine!
PICARD: Is he? Are you sure?
PICARD: But he's met two of your three criteria for sentience, and we haven't addressed the third. So we might find him meeting your third criterion, and then what is he?
MADDOX: (driven to his limit) I don't know. I don't know!