Data is one of the most intricate and rich characters from Star Trek TNG, but could we use the best technology available to us now and build an android like him?
I’ve always been absolutely fascinated by the technological premonitions of Star Trek TNG. Jean Luc Picard was swiping his fingers across a tablet years before anybody had heard of the Apple Ipad, the crew were ordering their food and drink from an advanced 3D printer and all Star Trek species spoke through a universal translator, which Google and Microsoft have invested heavily in.
Star Trek has always been a trailblazer for science and design and it should come as no surprise that the show has inspired advances in multiple fields. The medical equipment in the show such as the Tricorder and the Hypospray are almost a reality and companies currently claim to have working prototypes. They are also edging ever-closer to having working holodeck suites and Federation-style phasers are not out of the question for the military.
But what about Data, everyone’s favorite android? If we brought together the most advanced technology on the planet could we succeed in creating a Data-like android?
Data was said to have a linear computational speed rate of 60 trillion operations per second. Whatever that means, we can safely assume it was pretty fast. In the 21st Century, China has a super computer called the Tianhe-2 which is capable of carrying out 33 quadrillion calculations per second; I don’t even know how many zero’s that is but I know it beats Star Trek’s Data.
Data admitted in the first season of TNG that he had 12 quadrillion bytes of memory in his system which equates to about 12 petabytes. Scientists at the University of Southampton have created what they call 5D memory and a small disk the size of a coin can handle 360 terabytes. Our Data would need just 34 of these disks to have the same amount of memory as the Star Trek original.
Whilst computers have advanced considerably over the years, AI is still lagging behind slightly. We can create something that is able to learn, but that takes time and the technology just hasn’t been created yet for a robot to advance beyond the level of a young child. If it does exist, the corporations and governments are certainly keeping it to themselves at the moment. Entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk reckon that we should keep these technologies under wraps until we can say for sure that they won’t turn against us, Terminator-style.
There is also an ethical argument. Microsoft created an AI program recently called TAY and the program learnt and interacted via Twitter. TAY had to be closed down after just a short while because she turned into a homophobic, genocide loving, Nazi. This is not to say how AI will turn out; TAY was just inundated with trolls and learnt from the jokers of the internet rather than real life interactions.
Verdict: Not possible
The worlds most advanced robot that we know of is probably still Asimo, built by Honda. The world was amazed when he started walking upstairs and dancing around but he is nowhere near what we need in terms of strength and mental aptitude. I feel as though all of the components exist; we just can’t put them together right now. We have robots that can outdo humans in all walks of life but fitting them together is not yet a possibility.
Verdict: Not possible
In my previous article we discussed how we might like the Star Trek crew to lineup in the upcoming new television series in 2017. If we want an android on the new ship then we will, for now, have to make do with a human in makeup again.
We might not be ready for artificial humans quite yet, but that does not mean we never will. Technology is evolving faster than most of us understand and we could have Data’s walking among us in the years to come.
Let us know what you think about Data and whether you think we could, or should, try and build our own Mr. Data!