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Lunch » Tags » Tv Shows » Reviews » Star Trek - The Original Series, Episode 53: The Ultimate Computer » User review

A certain event, a computer with a survival instinct

  • Jul 18, 2004
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In this episode, a supercomputer called the M-5 is placed on board the Enterprise. It is so sophisticated that nearly all of the crew disembarks so that it can run the ship. However, it has been constructed using a human mind as a template. The creator of the computer, the brilliant Dr. Daystrom, used the patterns of his mind to build the circuits of the M-5. Unfortunately, Daystrom is mentally unstable, so the M-5 is also unstable.
When the M-5 is subjected to a war games exercise, it does not understand that it is a mock attack, so it treats it as a real one and destroys a star ship, killing everyone on board. The remaining ships then form an attack force, but Kirk is able to disable the computer and regain control of the Enterprise in the nick of time.
The most significant point in this episode is that a black man is portrayed as a very intelligent man who strongly defends his invention. He stands up to Kirk, interacting with the people in power as an equal, if not as a superior. Another point is that Dr. Daystrom has the most memorable reaction to the Vulcan neck pinch in the entire series.
I enjoyed the episode, it is often portrayed as anti-technology, but that is not true. I consider it an example of the reality of bleeding edge technology. Whenever a dramatic leap of technology has been attempted, there have been mishaps and deaths. Steam ships and locomotives blew up, ships sank, space shuttles exploded, planes crashed etc. Artificial intelligence (AI) remains an elusive goal with success being difficult to measure. However, one of the consequences of successfully implementing AI will be a computer behaving in a manner similar to that of the M-5, exhibiting a strong survival instinct. This is one of the episodes that is a safe prediction of a future event.

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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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Kirk reluctantly agrees to play along with a Federation test of a new supercomputer, designed by the brilliant Dr. Daystrom (William Marshall, the booming baritone stage actor most famous forBlacula) to run a starship almost single-handedly. It does its job too well, locking the human crew out of ship operations and using deadly force during the Federation war games. Spock and McCoy continue their now-legendary banter about man versus machine while Kirk muses over the obsolescence of his own command. Marshall is excellent as a former-boy-wonder genius banking his reputation on this breakthrough, treating his creation like a son. That's not too far from the truth: designed after his brain pattern, this thinking, reasoning, learning machine carries with it the insecurities and desperation of its creator. The fears of the emerging digital revolution explored inThe Ultimate Computerin 1968 remain today: what is the fate of man in the face of technological efficiency? Films from2001: A Space OdysseyandColossus: The Forbin ProjecttoDemon SeedandThe Matrixhave echoed these themes, and thisTrekepisode--primitive special effects, zero-budget sets, and all--stands up to them quite nicely.--Sean Axmaker
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Studio: CBS Paramount International Television

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