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The Quality of Life (episode)

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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)
"The Quality of Life"
TNG, Episode 6x09
Production number: 40276-235
First aired: 16 November 1992
134th of 176 produced in TNG
134th of 176 released in TNG
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 176 released in TNG Remastered  
242nd of 728 released in all
Exocomp with tool
Written By
Naren Shankar

Directed By
Jonathan Frakes
46307.2 (2369)
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Data discovers robots that he believes qualify as lifeforms.

Summary

Teaser

Riker, Worf, La Forge, and Crusher are playing poker, and the small talk drifts towards beards as, with La Forge deciding to grow his, all the men are sporting one. Crusher comments on her superstitious distrust of bearded men and decides on an unusual stake. If she wins the next hand, all the men shave off their beards; if one of them win, she becomes a brunette. The hand never gets started, though, as Captain Picard summons them to the bridge.

The USS Enterprise-D arrives at Tyrus VIIa to evaluate a Particle Fountain Project for possible use on Carema III. While Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge is talking with the project lead, Doctor Farallon, a malfunction occurs in one of the station's power grids. Dr. Farallon uses this opportunity to show Commander La Forge another project she has been working on, an exocomp: adaptive tools used for maintenance purposes. The exocomp is sent into an access tunnel, and repairs the malfunction very quickly, preventing a shutdown of the station's core which would have taken four months to return to its power level again.

Act One

Lieutenant Commander Data meets La Forge and Dr. Farallon as they beam aboard the Enterprise. With them is an exocomp. In Engineering, Dr. Farallon explains how she modified a common industrial servo mechanism over the course of several years to create the exocomps: giving them both the ability to replicate tools to effect repairs and a capacity to learn similar to that used by Data. In contrast to the ingenious nature of the exocomps, however, the particle fountain is behind schedule and over budget, and Picard is not very sympathetic. Dr. Farallon proposes putting the exocomps to work on the project to help accelerate progress. On the station, Data successfully completes fourteen separate tasks in less than an hour with help from the exocomp. Data estimates that the same tasks would have taken two engineers over nine hours. The exocomp is then sent into an access tunnel to seal a plasma conduit. However, the exocomp returns without finishing its task, and when Dr. Farallon tries to send it back into the access tunnel, it blocks her commands and overloads her control pad. A few seconds later the plasma conduit explodes. If the exocomp had gone back into the access tunnel, it would have been destroyed.

Act Two

After bringing the exocomp back to the Enterprise for analysis, Data and La Forge discover that the exocomp had shut down and that the interface circuitry which connected the exocomp to the control pad was completely burned out. Further investigation reveals that the number of new circuit pathways has increased by 632 percent. Dr. Farallon explains that sometimes an exocomp randomly generates large numbers of new pathways, which ultimately leads to a total shutdown. When this happens the exocomp becomes totally useless and has to be erased and reprogrammed all over again. Data mentions that the new pathways do not appear to interfere with the original circuitry. This leads La Forge to comment that somehow the exocomp seemed to know that the conduit would explode and therefore it had to leave the access tunnel. Because this remark implies some form of self-preservation motive, Data takes it upon himself to perform a level one diagnostic on the exocomp in his quarters.

The diagnostic reveals that the command module is now working normally. When checking the exocomp's sensor logs it turns out that the exocomp itself had burned out its own command interface circuitry, and then ran a self-repair program on the same circuitry two hours later. This discovery prompts Data to discuss the definition of life (particularly as it pertains to himself) with Doctor Crusher, who herself is unable to give him a definite, conclusive response, stating that after she had grappled with the same question from a young Wesley, she had realized that scientists and philosophers have been struggling to answer this question for centuries. The best answer she came up with was that it was not specific actions that defined life, but the struggle to maintain life, such as self-preservation. Still, the conversation allows Data to come to a significant moral decision. Data asks Dr. Farallon to stop using the exocomps—he has reason to believe they are alive.

Act Three

Data calls for a meeting of the senior staff in order to discuss his theory that the exocomps are a lifeform. Dr. Farallon attends only reluctantly. Data supports his theory by stating that the exocomp they sent into the tunnel earlier responded by deliberately burning out its control interface—in essence, refusing to obey an instruction it knew would send it to its destruction. However, only two hours later when it was on board the Enterprise and no longer in danger, it repaired itself. This demonstrated awareness of environment. Counselor Troi notes that Dr. Farallon is extremely reluctant to accept the idea that the exocomps are lifeforms; she keeps trying to rationalize her belief.

Picard argues that if the possibility exists that these exocomps are a lifeform, then that possibility must be examined as it is the primary mandate of Starfleet and the Enterprise. Thus, in order to test Data's theory, a simulation is created in which an exocomp has to repair a small conduit breach in a Jefferies tube in which a plasma cascade failure is simulated by means of a transient overload signal. The exocomp performs the repair and returns after the plasma overload simulation would have destroyed it. Data performs thirty-four additional tests and all tests have the same outcome: every single time the exocomp completes the repairs, and returns to Data when commanded by him. However, on the final test, Doctor Crusher is talking to Data so he neglects to recall the machine. Even so, the exocomp returns automatically and Data notices it has created a different tool than when it entered the tube. In the previous tests, the exocomp was recalled when the simulated plasma overload occurred. When Data checks the sensor logs this time, he discovers that the new tool had been used to deactivate the overload signal. The exocomp had actually known the whole time that the signal was false and that it was in no danger; it had completed the repair and taken the opportunity to rectify the false signal—a clear sign of intelligence. As Crusher puts it, "The Exocomp didn't fail the test; it saw right through it."

Act Four

Work is resumed on the station but while the Captain is examining the project the particle stream begins to experience fluctuations and radiation slowly leaks into the station. Dr. Farallon and her staff are beamed to the Enterprise, but La Forge and Picard remain on the station trying to save a member of the doctor's staff, who is killed in an explosion despite their efforts to save him. By the time the pair tries to beam back to the Enterprise the radiation levels on the station are too high for the ship's transporter to get a particle lock on La Forge and Picard. La Forge erects a temporary force field to hold the radiation at bay, but he knows that it is a temporary solution at best. Back aboard the Enterprise, Data projects that radiation levels in the station will be fatal within twenty two minutes even with the force field in place.

When the particle fountain reaches a critical stage, Commander Riker asks for ideas. Lieutenant Worf suggests sending a shuttlecraft, which Dr. Farallon says would take too long, and Riker asks about using a photon torpedo to disrupt the particle matter stream, but Data explains it would take at least 65 minutes to do the proper, careful ajustments. Dr. Farallon states that she can reconfigure the exocomps so their power cells explode when beamed into the stream, which would only take a couple of minutes. However, due to their survival instincts, the command pathways would have to be disconnected. Data strongly opposes sending what he considers lifeforms to their deaths, but Riker, while he respects Data's opinion, doesn't have an alternative and approves the plan. When the transporter controls suddenly go dead, Data reveals that he has locked out the controls, preventing the exocomps from being beamed out.

Act Five

In the observation lounge, Riker issues a direct order to release the transporter lock, but Data stands firm and will not do so, even if it means a court martial. He argues that sacrificing one lifeform for another is not justified, and based on his own experiences, he must believe that, like himself, the exocomps are alive—and therefore have the right to live. Data volunteers to beam over and fix the problem, allowing La Forge and Picard to return. Riker refuses as he knows that at such high levels, the radiation would ionize Data's positronic matrix, killing him. However, Data points out that since he has the power to choose, he is within his rights to sacrifice himself; the exocomps don't have such rights. This gives Riker an idea; he proposes to ask the exocomps if they are willing to perform this mission. When their command pathways are reconnected, the exocomps do not shut down. Instead, they change the commands Data had entered, replicate power taps and alter the transporter coordinates to inside the station core instead of in space near the matter stream. Data realizes that, based on their own vast experience aboard the station, they have developed an alternative plan. Riker lets the changes stand, and the exocomps are transported inside. La Forge observes as the exocomps use their power taps to attune to the particle stream's resonance frequency, so he and Picard use the consoles available to them to assist as best they can. The exocomps succeed, allowing them to distort the frequency. This opens a window for Kelso to beam La Forge and Picard back to the ship. He then tries to beam back the exocomps, but only two could be transported back - realizing that the particle stream had to remain distorted for the transport to succeed, the third exocomp sacrificed itself so that the other two could be rescued.

When the Enterprise departs, Dr. Farallon decides to study the exocomps as intelligent beings rather than as tools to be exploited, and the Captain agrees to reexamine the project in a couple of years and make a new recommendation to Starfleet. Once she leaves, Data has a word with Picard, wishing to explain why he was willing to endanger two friend's lives "for several small machines." Picard understands Data's decision had to have been extremely difficult. Data explains that, a few years ago, Picard himself had made a passionate case that helped establish Data's own status as a lifeform. In this scenario, Data had chosen to champion the exocomps for the same reasons. Picard understands, and he notes, "It was the most human decision you have ever made."

Memorable Quotes

"I have always been a little suspicious of men in beards."

- Beverly Crusher to the bearded Worf, Riker and La Forge


"Doctor, if you wish to master the bat'leth sword you must learn to strike and avoid in the same motion."
"I almost got in under your guard, Worf."
"Almost."

- Worf and Dr. Crusher


"Doctor... are you injured?"
"Only my pride, Data..."

- Data and Dr. Crusher


"There is a big difference between Data and a tool."
"Doctor, there is a big difference between you and a virus, but both are alive."

- Dr. Farallon and Data


"It was the most human decision you've ever made."

- Picard, on Data's decision not to allow the exocomps to be sacrificed for Picard and Geordi

Background Information

Filming The Quality of Life
Filming an exocomp scene before post production

Story and production

  • LJ Scott wrote the original material for this episode. He received credit in the end credits of the episode.
  • First UK airdate: 6 September 1995

Continuity

  • LeVar Burton was allowed to regrow his beard for this episode since he needed it for his wedding. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion) However, this time it would not just appear and then disappear again (as it did in "The Outcast"), but it was included into the episode and mentioned on screen.
  • This is one of the few episodes where the vertical blinds in Doctor Crusher's office in sickbay are opened and a corridor can be seen behind the window.
  • When Data explains to Captain Picard his decision on defending the life of the exocomps, he mentions that when his own life was on trial, Picard defended him. This is a reference to the second season episode "The Measure Of A Man".

Video and DVD releases

Links and references

Starring

Also starring

Guest stars

Co-star

Uncredited co-stars

Stand-ins

References

Beard; boridium; Carema III; Crusher, Wesley; exocomp; field generator; microfracture; microreplication system; painting; Particle Fountain Project; poker; razor; red alert; Soong, Noonian; tricorder; trombone; Tyran; Tyran system; Tyrus VII; Tyrus VIIa


Previous episode:
"A Fistful of Datas"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6
Next episode:
"Chain of Command, Part I"
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