Given the rate various technologies around us are gaining popularity, it is not possible that in the next three hundred years, artificial intelligence will reach the level as that of Data’s, where they are capable of rational thinking and forming relationships. Let’s just take a look at Japan’s latest release in the robotic industry: they already have introduced robot teachers into their citizens’ awareness, meaning, in the next few years or so, these designs will become more sophisticated.
As in the case of Data, I think we should also treat these “machines” ethically. I sympathize with Data’s plight as though he was a kid being bullied by a self-righteous person like Maddox. If Data could give such rational response when what’s expected of him is an irrational—a robotic—response, and he could carry out, and better, the tasks any ordinary human being can do, then why deprive him of such ethical recognition? Picard defends his case by asking Data his personal reactions to human actions, and unsurprisingly, the robot’s answers were human enough.
He calls Maddox, who thinks that Data is merely a machine built to serve its purpose to serve human needs, to the stand and asks him to give his own definition of what being sentient is, and unconsciously describes Data’s specifications, thereby taking the case to Data’s convenience. I don’t think that Maddox is right in claiming Picard as irrational with his view of Data, because all Picard was doing is he’s treasuring one of the well-regarded beings aboard their starship. Such action should be commended because he knows every being’s worth.
Likewise, his view on slavery and the use of a plethora of Data’s on serving human needs can be considered valid, even in this present century, especially if the underlying issue is how they are going to treat them. As with the JAG’s final ruling, I agree with their realization that they are not competent enough to decide if Data is human or if he has a soul. What choice they gave Data was enough to make him feel that his rationality will not be subjected to speculations again.