In class, we have discussed various levels of interactivity in works of fiction; Ranging from a choose-your-own-adventure novel through one of the very first video games, Zork. But these mediums have somewhat limited means of interactivity, some people even doubted there interactivity at all. I believe that few people today would doubt the interactivity of any modern video game whether it be hooked up to your TV or played on a computer. But someone living in the fictional 24th century of the world of Star Trek has a much more sophisticated version of a video game; (if you could even call it that anymore) the Holodeck. The Holodeck of Star Trek is the most advanced form of interactive narrative ever conceived, even if it is contained in a work of fiction itself.
The Holodeck culminates the functions of three other technologies I will try to explain. The first is the Transporter; which converts matter to energy to “beam” things and people to other places, then convert that energy back into the matter in its original state. The second technology is a variation on the first, it is the Replicator. It takes energy and converts it into matter, it is mostly used to create food and other small objects. The third is a force field, which is a barrier of energy that is often used to protect people from the vacuum of space1. A fourth technology, more or less some type of projector, is needed to create the images using light on the Holodeck, but that technology is more or less not applied anywhere else other than the Holodeck. The result of all of these things seamlessly integrated is the creation of not only an image of something but what appears to be the real thing and the limits of what can be created are only defined by the programming the computer creating the simulation contains. The word Holodeck itself refers to a large room with the Holo-emmitter (a word commonly used in the series) technologies placed on the walls and ceiling. They are commonly placed in a grid pattern3.
If this work of science fiction eventually became scientific fact, the possibilities for is use could become almost infinite in good ways and in bad. The simulation could be used to simulate training for doctors or military personnel2. Or take people on trips to far away places. On the other hand this technology could be taken too far and people may come to lead their lives in a virtual reality would and accept it as their new reality, possibly including many vices or sexual deviance.
There are plenty of instances in the series where the Holodeck is a valuable tool, so many that it would be impossible for me to name them here. But one of the most notable I can recall from memory is the doctor from Star Trek Voyager, which is the series that takes place the farthest into the future. The doctor is a hologram that performs the function of a doctor because the ship’s human doctor has been killed. “The Doctor” as he comes to be known, exists as a program containing knowledge of many medical procedures, most likely many more than any human could, that runs inside the ships computers. Since the Doctor is an entity of artificial intelligence he would presumably have the ability to make his own decisions and they could possible result in harm being done to people. That is a risk that is taken with the creating of artificial intelligence.
There is an instance of Holodeck malfunction that occurs in the episode of “The Next Generation” titled “Elementary, Dear Data”. It is where commander Data, himself an android that is superior in intelligence to humans, wants a more formidable adversary to challenge him mentally. This instruction is given to the Holodeck’s computers but is somehow misconstrued into requesting someone that can defeat Data. The result is an entity of extreme intelligence that is an extreme challenge to control.
This kind of event is precisely one that Bill Joy warns us about in his article from Wired Magazine. Placing confidence in a computer that can self replicate, here in the form of a human being is extremely dangerous. In the series though this type of incident would happen in a the semi-controlled environment of the Holodeck itself whereas if such a thing were to happen without such technological constraints of the Holodeck the outcome could have been much worse.