Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Picard's Voyager Tech Proves Starfleet's Hypocrisy

Star Trek: Picard has reintroduced a classic piece of tech from the Star Trek: Voyager series, highlighting Starfleet's hypocrisy. As the retired Jean-Luc edges closer to his return to outer space, more and more elements familiar to Star Trek fans are making their return. The new series has already brought back the Tal Shiar, featured a room full of Next Generation Easter eggs and a dropped a reference to Spock, and Star Trek: Picard is still only 3 episodes deep. In the latest episode of Picard's old-age adventures, the former admiral finally acquires a ship thanks to Santiago Cabrera's Rios, with Dr. Jurati and Raffi accompanying the two men on their mission to find Soji.

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Star Trek fans might recall that one of the most interesting figures in the Voyager series was Robert Picardo's Doctor. Unlike McCoy, however, there were no bones about this medic - he was an entirely artificial hologram. Designated as EMH (Emergency Medical Hologram) Mark I, the Voyager's doctor was assigned to become active permanently due to the ship being lost in the Delta Quadrant, thus creating a constant state of emergency. Despite being a hologram, Picardo's character has his own distinct quirks and personality traits and is a reliable source of humor in Star Trek: Voyager.

The EMH technology made a welcome return in episode 3 of Star Trek: Picard, with Rios utilizing the same program on his own ship. Similar to how the visual appearance of the Voyager's doctor was modeled after the hologram's creator, Rios' version is made in his own image, with Cabrera doubling up roles (and accents). The hologram first activates in order to remove a shard of metal from Rios' shoulder, and Picard then sees the two lookalikes squabbling over the pilot's condescending attitude towards the computerized doctor. Later, in Rios' personal quarters, the EMH returns, poking into his owner's mind and teasingly accusing him of being starstruck by meeting Picard. It's around that point he gets deactivated.

The return of the EMH doctors from Star Trek: Voyager is curious, considering the current political landscape Picard is faced with. In the wake of the shipyard attacks on Mars carried out by corrupted synth androids, Starfleet rolled out a blanket ban on synthetic life forms, deactivating those that were still active, and ceasing production and research to prevent any more being created. However, the presence of an EMH in Star Trek: Picard suggests that the ban hasn't been extended to other forms of sentient A.I., although the reasoning behind this isn't exactly clear. As demonstrated by both Voyager's doctor and Rios' program, an EMH is perfectly capable of expressing individual thought, and Star Trek history has several examples of rogue A.I. programs, and even those without android bodies have been known to cause huge problems - Dr. Moriarty in The Next Generation and Section 31's Control in Star Trek: Discovery, for example.

Why Starfleet would shut down synths but let EMHs slide is indicative of Starfleet's hypocrisy in Star Trek: Picard. Perhaps it's the covert, human-like nature of synths that troubles the Zhat Vash and prompted the ban's introduction, whereas holograms can be turned on and off at will, more like a regular computer program. Alternatively, it seems that synths aren't fully integrated into the world of Star Trek in Picard's era. Certain projects rely on the use of synthetic workforces, but Data was still the first of his kind in Starfleet, proving the technology remains in its infancy. Conversely, hologram technology has become a part of everyday life in Trek, meaning there'd be a far bigger backlash and social shift if Starfleet tried to outlaw those, as well as the synths. Does this mean Starfleet didn't ban holograms just to avoid bad PR?

In any case, the return of EMHs acts as a neat callback to a fan favorite character and creates a sense of continuity from the Star Trek: Voyager era to the franchise's latest offering. And, even better, there's still something inherently funny about holographic personalities.

Star Trek: Picard continues with "Absolute Candor" February 13th on CBS All Access and Amazon Prime.