Star Trek TNG: 10 Questions About Data, Answered
Like a modern-day "Tin Man" who only wants a heart, Data occupies a special place in pop culture as a human-adjacent being that provides a unique perspective on what it means to strive for humanity. As an android, he can't feel emotions, yet time and time again on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data proved he had the biggest heart of anyone on the crew. It's for that reason that like Spock before him, he's one of the most beloved characters in the Star Trek franchise.
Data's attempts to understand humans and their ways led to some of the most amusing and sensitive story arcs on the series. Brent Spiner was able to imbue Data with a great amount of nuance and wisdom despite having a limited range of everything from facial movements to body language at his disposal. Following Data's journey as he tries to be more human encompasses all that is best about Star Trek; compassion, tolerance, and exploration. Here are 10 questions about everyone's favorite android, answered.
10 WHO BUILT DATA?
Data was built by Dr. Noonien Soong in his image and exists as a completely artificial lifeform. As a self-aware and sentient being of artificial intelligence, he is designed to be stronger, faster, and capable of infinitely more complex mental computations than humans (despite resembling one) thanks to his powerful positronic brain.
Dr. Soong was a brilliant engineer and cyberneticist, who's work with AI was well beyond anything conceivable in the Federation before or since. Data was able to meet his maker/father only once, where it was revealed to him that the one thing he hadn't implanted in Data was an emotion chip. He died in Data's arms before he could do so.
9 HOW DID DATA COME TO JOIN STARFLEET?
Data's path to Starfleet Academy was not a linear one, which is fitting for the only android to ever be accepted. Data was found deactivated on Omicron Theta, after an attack by the Crystalline Entity had wiped out its inhabitants to use their life forms as energy for itself.
Data was reactivated and allowed to attend Starfleet in 2341. His first assignment was a posting to the USS Trieste. He was assigned to the USS Enterprise under Captain Jean-Luc Picard in 2364, and occupied the position of Second Officer under First Officer Commander William Riker.
8 IS HE THE ONLY ANDROID IN THE UNIVERSE?
Thought to be the only android of his kind in the known universe for some time, it was revealed that Dr. Noonien Soong actually designed six others. The male Soong-type androids were built in his image, and included two prototypes, B-4 (a rudimentary version of Data), Lore (Data's "evil" twin brother), and Data himself. He also built Juliana, a recreation of his late wife.
It was his work with his wife (prior to her passing) that led to his breakthroughs with the positronic brain, and the completion of androids on Omicron Theta. Lore, his fourth attempt, had issues with his ethical subroutines, and reappears in Data's life every so often to try to cajole him away from his commitment to Starfleet in the hopes of similarly corrupting him.
7 WHO IS DATA CLOSEST TO?
Despite not having any emotional connection to any of the crew onboard the Enterprise, Data has stated he "gets used to" the familiarity of seeing certain people daily, and that this registers as an inherently positive thing in his matrix. So while he doesn't make friendships in the same way as humans, he still very much values their role in his life.
His best friend is Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge, but he enjoys a good rapport with both Commander Riker and the Klingon Security Chief of Security Lieutenant Worf. He also feels a great deal of respect and admiration for Captain Picard, who defended his right to sentience and personal agency in front of a Starfleet tribunal.
6 HAS DATA EVER MALFUNCTIONED?
Given Data's extreme strength and intelligence, if he ever malfunctioned he would become a serious threat to the crew of the Enterprise. While it's something he's aware of and therefore undergoes multiple diagnostic scans of his own internal matrix daily, it's not something he can completely prevent.
Data can be affected by viruses, power surges when connected to the ship's central computer, as well as "possession" when someone hacks into his neural net. His "evil twin" Lore was able to make him believe that getting access to an emotion chip was worth sacrificing his friends aboard the Enterprise. He was able to recover from that malfunction in time to save them from Lore's plans of extermination.
5 WHAT ARE DATA'S HOBBIES?
Data is interested in many of the same activities as his human peers, such as music (he plays the violin in a quartet aboard the Enterprise), writing poetry, and painting. He has a special appreciation for Arthur Conan Doyle's fictitious detective Sherlock Holmes, who Data likes to portray in a series of mysteries programmed on the holodeck.
Data also has been known to dabble in the same cybernetic research as his creator. Once, after returning from a convention on the subject, he constructed his own "offspring" he named Lal. It wasn't possible for her to be kept alive, but during her short life aboard the Enterprise, Data enjoyed knowing what it was like to be a father.
4 WHY DOES DATA WANT TO BE HUMAN?
Precisely because Data had a difficult time grasping human idiosyncrasies, he strove to increase his humanity. His pursuit of understanding human's capacity for emotional intelligence resulted in much of the humor on The Next Generation but also demonstrated that Data could be more humans than the humans around him.
Data attempted to participate in as many human activities and milestones as he could. Everything from playing games of three-dimensional chess with his shipmates, to trying to find love and even start a family. Data wanted what most humans took for granted, and in his way, offered the perspective of the "other" in the series, much like Spock had done for Star Trek: The Original Series.
3 WHAT IS DATA'S ROLE ON THE ENTERPRISE?
Data came to serve several functions over the course of his time aboard the Enterprise-D under Captain Picard. At the beginning of The Next Generation's development, it was thought that Data would serve as Chief Science Officer like Mr. Spock, but as he already possessed several other similarities to the half-Vulcan, Data was made Operations Manager.
While he's often found n the bridge, he frequently works in engineering with his pal Geordi La Forge. His other official title is Second Officer, directly under Commander William Riker. In one plot, he became acting captain of the USS Sutherland for a short while and proved every bit as fit for command as a human.
2 HAS DATA EVER BEEN IN LOVE?
Data is incapable of feeling love, one of the strongest human emotions, unless he has an emotion chip installed. However, because he can "grow used to people", he can miss their absence, which is what happened when Security Chief Tasha Yar was killed on an away mission.
Though they only spent one night of intimacy together, it deeply affected Data. It would be some time before he attempted anything similar again, this time by creating specific romantic subroutines to court fellow crewmember Jenna D'Sora. Their relationship failed because a relationship would only ever be a series of calculated maneuvers to Data, despite his wish for the alternative.
1 IS DATA TRULY DEAD?
During the events of the film Star Trek: Nemesis, the last feature film to involved The Next Generation crew, Data sacrificed his life so that Captain Picard could escape from aboard The Scimitar. He also successfully foiled the Picard clone Shinzon's plans to use the ship as a weapon of mass destruction.
Before his demise, Data transferred his memories into B-4, the rudimentary Soong-android the crew had recovered prior to facing Shinzon. After watching the trailer for the new Picard series, it's unclear weather it's Data or B-4 that we see Picard interacting with, but it stands to reason that Data lives on in some capacity.