In the mid-season finale of “Star Trek: Discovery,” something happened which should worry all fans. An Artificial Intelligence (AI) named Zora (voiced by Annabelle Wallis) was sworn into Starfleet as an official member of the Discovery. That is, a computer is now an equal member of the crew.
That episode, entitled “…But to Connect,” gave viewers a lot to ponder right before the show went onto a mid-season hiatus. “Discovery” will return to Paramount+ on Feb. 10, 2022.
While many longtime fans of “Star Trek” note that this would not be the first time a synthetic life form became part of Starfleet — Mr. Data (Brent Spiner) is the most prominent of these. But the last time the Discovery had a member of its crew, which was partially artificial, Ariam (played by Hannah Cheesman), an evil AI, decided to control her as it attempted to defeat Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Pike (Anson Mount).
The big plot reveal on “Star Trek: Picard” was that sapient androids, based on Dr. Soong’s design (which was who created Data), were living peacefully on a hidden world. Unfortunately, the Romulans tried to end that peace, as they had a prophecy about machines taking over and destroying all intelligent, organic life. At the end of the final episode of Season 1, viewers saw the tendrils of the synthetic life forms that would liberate the androids.
As we’ve said before, there have been quite a few episodes of “Star Trek” which have dealt with the themes of computers and machines taking over control. The first was “The Ultimate Computer,” which gave the power of the Enterprise over to an AI. We noted that there have been numerous episodes where the crew from the various shows have been tortured or tricked in simulations, which were very similar to “The Matrix.”
Could Zora be the new ‘Control?’
As ScreenRant’s Craig Elvy explained, the AI “Control” was featured in Discovery Season 2, and “promptly decided humanity was surplus to requirements and war broke out with Starfleet’s finest on one side, and Control’s drone fleet on the other.”
A scenario with Zora taking command of the Discovery is not unlikely, as, in previous episodes, it disobeyed direct orders. Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) realized that Zora had figured certain things out about the mysterious Dark Matter Anomaly (DMA). But when Stamets requested the information, Zora refused to reveal what she (and yes, Zora identifies as female) knew. Only Captain Burnham was able to coax Zora into sharing this information.
ComicBookResources’ Sam Stone wrote that “Zora appears to be a burgeoning artificial intelligence that works in service to its human associates and has grown to empathize with them.”
What if Zora Gets Angry?
But what if Zora gets upset? Burnham and the crew have only witnessed the good side of Zora. What if another human-crewed ship attacks the Discovery on accident? Zora might beam the crew into the pattern buffers and go on a rampage, eliminating all threats to her favorite people.
Unlike Data, Zora is not easily removed from service. As viewers learned in Season 2 of “Discovery,” the Sphere Data could not be separated from the banks of the ship’s computer. If Data went rogue, Mr. Worf or another member of the crew would use phasers to deactivate him. If Zora goes rogue, the ways to stop her are slim.
Data also attended Starfleet Academy, and had a team of experts monitoring his movements and actions aboard the Enterprise-D. Chief Engineer Geordi la Forge (LeVar Burton) and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) were able to deactivate Data and check on him from time to time. Will Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) be able to sit down with Zora and evaluate her emotions? Will Stamets be able to do systems diagnostics on Zora?
During the episode, Saru (Doug Jones) argued that he or any other crewmember could sabotage the ship. His point was the Zora should be treated no differently. Stamets disagreed but eventually relented.
Zora does not operate on the Three Laws of Robotics, and neither did Data. Among those laws, formulated by author Isaac Asimov, was the second, which stated that a “robot must obey orders given to it by human beings.” Zora has already broken that law, and who knows if she’ll break the other two.
‘The Terminator’ and ‘Star Trek’
While Zora going on a Skynet-style rampage is unlikely (but not impossible), there are some ties between the dystopian Terminator franchise and Trek. The great Harlan Ellison, known to Trek fans as writing the original “City on the Edge of Forever,” also wrote a story that was similar to the first few minutes from the original “Terminator” story.
According to writer David Brennan, the similarities between Ellison’s scripts at “The Terminator” were because filmmaker James Cameron “borrowed” a few ideas from Ellison, but that his “Terminator” story “clearly stood on its own.”
CORRECTION: In the article, the word “sentient” was used, where “sapient” should have been. We have corrected this and updated the article.