Both The Enterprise-D/E's Data, and Voyager's Emergency Medical Hologram, are crew members who are artificial intelligences.

In TNG, Data is depicted as being incapable of feeling emotion (at least before the movies). He's also portrayed as being an advanced piece of technology relative to Federation tech (e.g. some people want to disassemble him to see how he works, implying they don't already know).

Data repeatedly expresses desire to feel more emotion, but apparently, only a particular chip made by Noonien Soong can provide him with that capability.

Voyager's doctor, on the other hand, is shown as being quite emotional, often becoming irritated by other crew members, right from the moment of his activation.

How does the Federation have the technology to let the EMH feel (or display?) emotion, but was unable to grant Data this ability?

  • 8
    Perhaps because an EMH needs emotions to improve his empathy and hence his bedside manner. At least, in theory. :) May 16, 2016 at 8:06
  • Awwwwwwwwwwwwww. :(
    – Adamant
    May 16, 2016 at 19:50
  • 2
    Does the EMH actually have emotions? Or is he just better at simulating them? The characters on the Holodeck all seemed to have (admittedly basic) emotions, and that technology long precedes Soong's work with androids. (An alien race with Holodeck-like technology was featured in an episode of ENT, which predates even TOS.) May 16, 2016 at 20:46
  • 3
    Eventually, it's revealed that the EMH was developed by an actual human, and its medical abilities and personality were copied from the human. May 17, 2016 at 0:41
  • 2
    When I first read this question, I though, meh, whatever. Turns out, it was one of the most thought provoking questions I've ever seen on the network. Kudos. May 18, 2016 at 9:04

8 Answers 8


Data's lack of emotions is intentional

According to Lore, Dr. Soong deliberately left many features out of Data's programming in a bid to make him less threatening to humans.

LORE: It would be foolish to underestimate you, brother. Yes, I lied when I said you were made first, but with good reason. Doctor Soong made me perfect in his first attempt. But he made me so completely human the colonists became envious of me.

DATA: You lived with the colonists?

LORE: Until they petitioned Soong to make a more comfortable, less perfect android. In other words, you, brother. Haven't you noticed how easily I handle human speech? I use their contractions. For example, I say can't or isn't, and you say cannot or is not. (sings) I say tomato, you say tomahto. I say potato, you say potahto. (laughs) A very old joke. But then you also have trouble with their humour. Am I right?

Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Datalore"

It seems likely that among the features Dr. Soong omitted in order to make Data less human were emotional programming. It is true that Lore sought to gain the emotion chip that Soong had designed for Data, but probably more out of jealousy than anything else, or perhaps to enhance his existing emotions. In any case, Lore clearly displays emotions before acquiring the chip. For example, he laughs in the previous transcript.

Furthermore, the Doctor came after Data

Data was born in 2336 or so.

The EMH was activated in the 2370s, and thus came several decades after Data.

KIM: Computer, initiate Emergency Medical Holographic programme.

(A balding human male appears.)

EMH: Please state the nature of the medical emergency.

KIM: Multiple percussive injuries.

EMH: Status of your doctor?

KIM: He's dead.

Star Trek: Voyager, "Caretaker"

This gave the Federation plenty of time to study Data's programming and improve upon it.

As such, the EMH may indeed be more advanced than Data, simply by virtue of being a later model.

  • I'd like to think I'd have written an answer of similar quality had I not been on my phone... Great answer +1 👍 May 16, 2016 at 6:35
  • 6
    The EMH Mark I was finished in 2371 (see here]. On that point I'm not sure how pertinent that quote from 'Caretaker' - you may wish to cite a different source May 16, 2016 at 11:38
  • 5
    Lore isn't exactly a reliable source. May 16, 2016 at 14:34
  • 2
    @RobertHarvey: Agreed. I find any assertions from Lore himself to be suspect since he's always more interested in his own angle (whatever that happens to be) than the truth or anyone else's best interests.
    – Ellesedil
    May 16, 2016 at 16:30
  • Wasn't Data born ~400 years ago?
    – algiogia
    May 17, 2016 at 11:40

They're different tech

The important thing to recognise is that these are two vastly different pieces of technology, running on quite different hardware (one a Starfleet ship's computer and Hilo-emitters, the other a positronic brain). So there is a difference in programming them by virtue of their makeup.

Intentional design

The other factor and probably most important one is to remember that Data was made by Soong after Lore because Lore's emotions twisted. Data was designed and programmed intentionally to be emotionless because of Lore's problems.

  • 1
    This raises the potentially very interesting question of how they prevented the EMH from having Lore's problems.
    – Ixrec
    May 16, 2016 at 8:28
  • 3
    @Ixrec take a look at VOY 'The Darkling' where they look at a similar issue May 16, 2016 at 8:29
  • 2
    Hilo-emitters? That feels hollow.
    – user
    May 16, 2016 at 18:54
  • 3
    @Ixrec: the EMH was designed strictly for short-term use. The question wasn't expected to arise. May 17, 2016 at 0:52

Besides the answers already mentioned (Data being intentionally stripped of emotions and the Doctor being later technology), there's another aspect worth considering: that the Doctor does not truly have emotions.

Judging by the Lewis Zimmerman we see in in the episode "Life Line", the Doctor was modeled after an irritable, sarcastic man. The Doctor's complaints about the crew and other emotions may be no more than a simulation Zimmerman designed to replicate his own commentary. Most holographic characters display emotion, and the Doctor's may be as superficial as the melodramatic characters we see in Reginald Barclay's holoprograms.

  • Strong AI vs weak AI :)
    – Jane S
    May 17, 2016 at 7:10
  • I think this (and Lightness's) are the most accurate answers, particularly the second half. The Doctor was designed to imitate, and this is strongly shown in how the Voyager crew interact with him in the first season or two (aside from Kes). That he grew into a real personality with emotions is an accident, but something that has happened a few times with Federation technology.
    – Izkata
    May 17, 2016 at 17:02
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    @Izkata Not an accident. They had to keep expanding and altering his program to allow that to happen.
    – Shane
    May 17, 2016 at 20:18
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    @Shane IMO it happened before that, at Kes's urging, when he decided to go ahead and start expanding his program
    – Izkata
    May 17, 2016 at 20:57

Just to add a little more to the mix. Out of universe, Data having no emotions gave the writers and story a place to explore emotions. Several times in TNG Data displays, what may be considered as, simple emotions. He has preferences, and most importantly desire. He is "fascinated" quite often and even displays sadness, angst, and hope.

The trick is that he doesn't seem to know he is doing it. Sure Data's emotions may be underdeveloped, but in several Data story lines, I get the distinct sensation that Soong wanted Data to develop his emotions naturally instead of being given a prescribed set of emotion algorithms. In fact that was one of the lessons learned from Lore.

The doctor on the other hand was designed to be an emergency replacement, running for only a couple of hours in a crisis. Generally thought of as a massive failure, the MK1 EMH's emotions got in the way more often then not. (see DSN episode and Voyager's Lifeline episode) But the emotions were programmed in to make it easier to relate to patients.

Simply put, they both had "emotions" but they started from different places. The doctor's was programmed in, and Data's was left to be discovered.


The holograms have the capability to draw upon the entire resources of the mainframe of the ship. We see this in the TNG episode, Ship in a Bottle, where Moriarty becomes self-aware. The programming of the ship mainframes is complex enough that it is apparently capable of creating self-aware AI. Housing that in a mobile brain is a hardware problem.

In TNG's Measure of a Man, we learn that the Federation has not yet managed to recreate the unique hardware of Data. Data's emotion chip is a chip, a piece of hardware, not an update to his programming but instead an add-on.

So it comes down to this: The software is fine, it's the hardware that is the issue.

  • 2
    This is the right answer. The EMH is being run by a truly massive supercomputer. Literally the entire ship has its computer running through it. Data is being run on something the size of a head. Data is advanced not because he can outperform other computers. Data is advanced because he runs half as fast as other computers with only a percent the hardware. A raspberry pi isn't more powerful than a computer from 20 years ago, but if I brought it back in time, people would be clamboring to dismantle the high tech wizardry.
    – Shane
    May 17, 2016 at 20:31
  • 1
    Lore is pretty self-aware, and an older model than Data, who is also self-aware but not as homicidal. May 18, 2016 at 11:52
  • "A raspberry pi isn't more powerful than a computer from 20 years ago" Well... May 28, 2019 at 10:12

tl;dr: Apples and oranges.

There are several problems with this question.

First, we've never discovered for sure that the EMH does "feel emotion". Right up to the end of the show, several characters (despite having become his "friend") still considered his personality a mere simulation, and a hearing in late Season 7 declined to confidently declare that he had sentience. The only person to outright state this was the alien in Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy and, at the time, he was wrong about the Doctor in many, many ways.

(Mind you, Star Trek has always been unclear and contradictory on the matter of whether its holograms could be self-aware; see e.g. Moriarty in early TNG. It's possible that this capability has been effectively retconned to a degree as holographic characters became a core part of the lore.)

Second, Data was eventually imbued with emotions (with tech that far predated the EMH), and it has always been made clear that Data is actually a sentient "lifeform". These emotions were assuredly "real".

I just don't think that the two can be compared in this manner.

  • 3
    The first premise assumes there's a meaningful distinction between "simulating" emotions and "feeling" emotions and has a meat bias. Are humans meat "simulating" emotions? Science says if you can't distinguish between the two, they're the same. Part of the point of ambiguous characters like Moriarty, Data, and The Doctor are to question this meat bias. As to the second point, Data's emotions come from a chip. What makes them any more "real" than the Doctor's? Why isn't Data "simulating" emotions? When was it made clear his emotions are "real"? Did the show just declare them so?
    – Schwern
    May 16, 2016 at 21:01
  • "The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true. -- Ecclesiastes"
    – user44432
    May 16, 2016 at 21:56
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    @Schwern: There is a huge body of scientific research and philosophical debate over what constitutes self-awareness. I don't think there's much value in reproducing it all here, but surely you have a library in your city or town? The proposition is that Data's neural net is capable of creating self-awareness, whereas the EMH is more like Siri -- he might sound human and self-aware, but he's not. Being programmed to say "I'm self-aware" is not the same as actually being so. But, yes, the fascinating question is "which is the case?" For the EMH, nobody knows; for Data, yes, the show says so. May 16, 2016 at 22:46
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit "Yes, the show says so"...does it? Episodes like Measure Of A Man answer the question "is Data alive" with a resounding "maybe". Do you have a different example? I don't know how you conclude The Doctor and Data are so different. The Doc struggles with his identity, composes opera, daydreams, has friends, ambitions, romantic interests, writes a novel, advances medical knowledge... like Data. If it's just neural net vs holographic matrix (whatever that is) that's mechanistic; like arguing Data can't have emotions because he's not made of meat.
    – Schwern
    May 17, 2016 at 2:21
  • 2
    So we can decide that the entity posting as @LightnessRacesinOrbit is not capable of feeling and self-awareness in the same sens that we (the readers) are, even if programmed to insist otherwise. Turing test, anyone?
    – JDługosz
    May 17, 2016 at 8:49

A common explanation I don't see represented here is that Voyager's computer actually has biological circuitry, while Data is entirely mechanical. It is often proposed that the bio-neural gel packs are at least part of the reason that the EMH was so easily able to become more human in his sentience.

That said, there are other examples of sentient holograms (all created after Data) that seemed to have emotions. Moriarty seemed to have emotions, even though it took a lot of the ship's power to create him. Minuet seemed to have emotions when the Bynars temporarily upgraded the holodeck system in order to lure in Picard and Riker. Vic Fontain seems to have an emotional awareness in his counseling showing at least greater emotional awareness than Data. And the Fair Haven folk became self-aware and expressed the emotion of fear as their main plot.

Only the latter were made on a ship with bio-neural gel packs, which would seem to disprove this theory. But I note that the only other accidental formation of emotions took a lot of the ship's power to do so, so it's possible the bio-neural gel packs make emotions easier to form.

Anyways, this a common fan speculation to the point that it was originally included on Memory Alpha until removed for being non-canon. It was on so many sites that people assumed it must be canon.

  • 1
    Sorry, but I'm not sure that debunking a fan-theory necessarily requires an answer in itself. This probably would have functioned better as a comment on the question.
    – Valorum
    Jan 15, 2019 at 22:43
  • 1
    I didn't debunk anything. I simply pointed out that it is a common fan theory that was omitted from the answers given, likely by mistake. It is 100% an Answer, and Answers can never be given as comments. Just because I am fair and give both the pros and cons of such arguments does not make it a debunking.
    – trlkly
    Jan 15, 2019 at 22:48

I've noticed that all holographic figures in the Trek franchise have emotions. In the case of the Doctor, he not only has emotions, he had learned to become aware of himself as an individual beyond the Sick Bay and his role as a substitute medical officer. Or a tool. I have noticed that at the beginning (I just recently viewed the Season One episode, "Eye of the Needle", the crew basically viewed the Doctor as that - a technological tool and substitute for the their recently killed Chief Medical Officer. And it took the crew a long time for all of them to completely respect him as a sentient being and individual. The only two crew members who regarded him as both from the start were Kes and later, Seven-of-Nine, who had her own struggles with her individuality.

In regard to the Enterprise-D crew, I do not think Data had that much trouble. If anything, I have noticed that they were always taken aback when Data had to remind them that he was an android. Date's problems to be recognize as a sentient beings seemed to come more from Starfleet and the occasional alien. However, I occasionally had the feeling that Picard and his crew tend to regard Data as some kind of mascot or pet. At times, it seemed as if they regarded him with a patronizing attitude. Did they see his lack of emotions as childlike? Or did this stem from Data's willingness to study the emotions of sentient beings? And if Data had this desire to learn about emotions, then that would make him very self-aware.


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