TELEPRESENCE IN POPULAR CULTURE

A study of portrayals of presence

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Offspring (1 of 2)

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ABOUT THE WORK

MEDIUM:

TV episode 

YEAR:

1990 

WRITER(S):

Written By: Rene Echevarria 

OWN COPY?

No 
 

ABOUT THE STORY

SUMMARY:

(copied from http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/series/TNG/episode/68434.html) Hoping to further his creator's work and perpetuate his species, Data creates an android named Lal, who receives Data's programming through neural transfers. Although Picard is apprehensive about Starfleet's reaction to the unauthorized experiment, he allows Data to continue his research. Allowed to select its own appearance, Lal chooses the form of a human female. As she becomes increasingly capable of perception and feeling, Data enrolls Lal in school so that she can assimilate human behavior. When the android has difficulty fitting in with the children, Guinan agrees to let her work in Ten Forward, where she can supervise Lal's socialization process, and where Lal can study many different kinds of people. Meanwhile, Starfleet Admiral Haftel learns of Data's creation and informs Picard that he wants to transfer Lal to a research station where he can more closely monitor her progress. When Picard refuses, citing Lal and Data's mutual need to remain together for full developmental growth, Haftel gets permission to come aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise to observe Lal and is empowered to remove her from the ship if he is dissatisfied by what he sees. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Haftel is convinced that a bar is an unacceptable environment for Lal and orders her removed from Ten Forward. He then meets with Lal in the hopes of convincing her to leave the Enterprise, but she firmly states her desire to remain with her "father" Data and the crew. Upset by her meeting with the Admiral, Lal seeks out Troi, who is stunned to sense the emotion of fear emanating from the android. After Haftel informs Data that Lal will be taken from the starship, Picard states his intention to defy the admiral's orders, but their face-off is interrupted by an emergency call from Troi. Data and Haftel rush to Lal's side, only to find that she is dying. Troi tells them that Lal's functions broke down after experiencing an extraordinary range of feelings in the counselor's presence. In a valiant effort to save Lal, Haftel joins Data in repairing the android's malfunction, but her neural pathways shut down faster than they can fix them. After Lal thanks Data for her life and tells him that she loves him, her neural system fails and she expires. Unable to experience the grief and emotion the crew feels at Lal's loss, Data must be content with Lal's memories of life, which he transfers to his brain. 

ERA/YEAR:

Distant future 

CHARACTERISTICS
OF WORLD:

Takes place in the 24th century aboard a starship. 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE-EVOKING TECHNOLOGY
NAME:
Data and Lal 
DESCRIPTION:
Lal is an android who chooses to take the form of a human female (approximate age: late teens). She moves and speaks somewhat like a robot at first, but gradually begins to seem more like a human. She learns human behavior and is eager to try it herself. She asks many questions, like a young child wondering about everything she sees. She falls Data "father." When Admiral Haftel tells Lal he wants her to be moved to a different location to learn under appropriate guidance, she becomes upset at the idea of being separated from her father. She seems to become very human very quickly, and seeks the help of Counselor Troi as she deals (with confusion) with the human emotions she is feeling. Just before Data shuts her down, she tells him she loves him and thanks him for giving her life. She says she feels strong emotions about having to say goodbye, and when Data says he cannot feel these same emotions, she says she will feel for both of them. 
NATURE OF TASK OR ACTIVITY:
She is an experimental android, and interacts with humans in elementary school and at a social gathering place (a bar) aboard the starship. 
PERFORMANCE OF THE TECHNOLOGY:
Lal functions very well according to Data's expectations. She begins to learn human behaviors such as using language contractions ('I've' instead of 'I have') and begins to feel human-like emotional responses due to a malfunction in her system. Data does not anticipate either phenomenon. 
 
ABOUT THE CREATORS OF THE TECHNOLOGY
DESCRIPTION:
Data is an android who is a member of the starship's crew, and an engineer. He was created by a robotics expert.  
MAJOR GOAL(S):
Data returns from a conference with an idea to create an android with programming and systems identical to his own. He considers her to be his child, and wants to teach her everything he knows. 
 
ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCE PRESENCE
DESCRIPTION:
Data has the most contact with Lal, though she also interacts with schoolchildren and other adults in various settings. 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE EXPERIENCE
TYPE(S) OF PRESENCE:
Social presence 
DESCRIPTION:
Lal seems mostly human, but her emotional age is younger than her appearance suggests. The schoolchildren are frightened of her in part because she is so different from them. Before she takes on human female form, her uncovered androgenous body makes some strangers stare. 
USER AWARENESS:
It is uncertain whether the children at school or the adults in the bar know that Lal is an android. Data and the crew are aware of her nature at all times. The one exception is Commander Riker, who does not know who or what she is when she grabs him across the bar and kisses him. 
VALENCE:
Most enjoy their interaction with Lal, as she is a pleasant and attractive young woman. 
SPECIFIC RESPONSES:
When Lal 
 
ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF PRESENCE
LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES:
When Data cannot fix the malfunction in her systems quickly enough to return her to normal functionality, he decides to shut her off and disassemble her. The "death" of Lal makes the crew sad, but when they express their condolences to Data, he thanks them but explains his lack of emotional response to the situation. 
 
AND FINALLY...
OTHER INFORMATION:
The civil rights of an android are discussed by Picard and the Admiral. After initially being angry at Data for "procreating" without consulting him, Picard defends Lal as a sentient being with a will of her own. He even risks disobeying a senior officer to keep her from being separated from her father. 
CODER NAME:
Tina Peterson 
CODER E-MAIL:
tina.peterson@temple.edu 
CODER AFFILIATION:
Temple University 
DATE CODED:
3/31/2007 

 


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