I recognize that this is likely not answered in TNG, but if any of the books/comics address it, that's fine too.

We know that Data can interface with the ship's computer (numerous episodes with Data's skull wired up), and we even know that his personality matrix - for lack of a better term - can be copied, as was done to B-4.

In the former case, Data was only issuing and receiving data, while in the latter case he was copied into a (more primitive) positronic brain.

As his personality matrix is software, could it be transferred into, say, a mainframe (which we know are what run the Enterprise, hilariously)? If so, how would that affect his personality? Fundamentally, how much of who Data is, is dependent upon his hardware? He would seem to be able to acquire more facts, but would he still be able to grow and develop as a person?

  • How would you feel if you transferred your brain in some big ship's computer, sure you could gather more data but you would not feel human any more. And to something astronomical as that happen in your life, of-course it would change your personality And since Data's main desire to increase his humanity, transferring his matrix in ships computer would put a stop to it. I suggest you to watch episode "The Measure of a Man" that is S2E9 where they want to transfer the contents of Data's memory to the starbase mainframe computer and shut down him. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 12:50
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    I'm at a loss why this is facing closure. It's very answerable
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 13:12
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    I feel like much of the writers' purpose for Data in the series is to get the audience to ask themselves that very question. How much of who we are is dependent on our biology? What makes a bag of meat (or anything else for that matter) a person? Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 14:42
  • @VanjaVasiljevic the question is not whether he would like it or if it would make him more human or even change his personality from being treated in such a fashion. The question is whether his personality would survive the process and be capable of continuing to develop. This is a technical question more than an ethical on, if that makes sense.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 16:28
  • Two non-answer observations: 1) Data has repeatedly made reference to the fact that Soong-type positronic brains involve a neural network architecture. While it is perfectly possible to simulate a neural net in software, it isn't efficient: human neurons maintain their state "in hardware" i.e. in the physical connections between nodes (there's no known software layer). It is likely that Data's brain does the same or he wouldn't keep talking about it like that; as a result, the state may be able to be saved, but you couldn't remove Data's mind from the hardware without ending his existence.
    – user36551
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 0:02

1 Answer 1


This is addressed in a couple of episodes, notably TNG: The Measure of a Man and TNG: The Schizoid Man . The very short answer is that his core personality is utterly dependent on being housed in a positronic brain.

DATA: That while I believe it is possible to download the information contained in the positronic brain, I do not think you have acquired the expertise necessary to preserve the essence of those experiences. There is an ineffable quality to memory which I do not believe can survive your procedure.

TNG: Measure of a Man


Captain's log, supplemental. We've said goodbye to Kareen Brianon, with the hopeful feeling that her future will be a bright one. The intellect of Ira Graves [that was in Data's brain] has been deposited into our computer. There is knowledge but no consciousness. The human equation has been lost.

TNG: The Schizoid Man

You may also want to note that after the end of Star Trek: Insurrection, Data was restored in the body of the android B4. We can certainly determine that Data's personality isn't dependent on his own hardware since it can apparently inhabit another android's body (e.g. with different, albeit near-identical hardware).

  • Sounds like reasonable canonical proof that while the information available would be transferable, the process would collapse the personality matrix which can only "survive" in a positronic brain (or arguably in a form similarly complex which is not available with contemporary technology). Thank you, that very neatly answers my question.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 16:23
  • No, I disagree. These are only quoting the beliefs of two characters; far from inviolate proof. A simple example would be the failure of Lal- their understanding is far from perfect.
    – DeadMG
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 21:53
  • @DeadMG - Well, in the second instance Picard actually has an uploaded brain to examine and has determined that it's no longer conscious.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 21:55
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    This doesn't rule out the proposed situation. It may be, for instance, that the Enterprise's mainframe simply isn't as powerful as Data's positronic brain and that any computer of sufficient power would be enough. It may also be that human brains are simply compatible with positronic ones and not a mainframe. It may also be that his consciousness actually was recoverable and simply nobody tried, or they lacked the appropriate software. This one very specific case doesn't generalize.
    – DeadMG
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 22:03
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    @DeadMG - Well, we know that when the Bynars "upgraded" the Enterprise mainframe so that it could house their civilisation it was able to adequately host a Turing-capable personality but not permanently.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 22:06

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