In the various Star Trek shows, we have seen at least three examples of a Holodeck character achieving sentience:

In all three cases, the characters in question were sophisticated holographic characters created with specific criteria in mind. Two were created using Federation holotechnology, with the other being created in a Ferengi holosuite. However, both used very similar technology.

Is there any indication that all three of these characters resulted from the same "glitch" in holotechnology, and was there ever any attempt to intentionally create a new lifeform using a holodeck?

I'll accept an answer providing a source from the novels, comics, ST:Online, whatever. I'm not as familiar with the Star Trek expanded universe as I would like.

  • 4
    Was Vic Fontaine supposed to be sentient? He had the knowledge he was a hologram, but that's not the same thing.
    – Kai
    Jan 15, 2020 at 5:32
  • Nit pick - Vic Fontaine was created in a Cardassian holosuite, owned/operated by a Ferengi.
    – Darren
    Jan 15, 2020 at 11:42
  • 4
    @Darren Vic Fontaine was created by Felix, a friend of Dr Bashir, who sent him the program that was then played in a Cardassian holosuite operated by Quark. It is likely that Felix was a citizen of the Federation, thus Vic was created in a Federation holosuite.
    – Sava
    Jan 15, 2020 at 12:55
  • @Sava touché sir (or madam).
    – Darren
    Jan 15, 2020 at 13:27
  • @Kai - Not only did Vic know he was a hologram, but he could switch his own program on/off and stay that way despite commands to the computer. The DS9 episode "It's Only a Paper Moon" is what prompted the question. Nog asked Chief O'Brien if Vic was alive and O'Brien said "I'm an engineer, not a philosopher".
    – Omegacron
    Jan 15, 2020 at 23:32

2 Answers 2


Only Moriarty gained sentience through a glitch, or rather a poorly-thought request to the computer. The Doctor achieved it through time, when his program far exceeded the designed running time and with some coaching from the crew. Vic Fontaine was specifically programmed with knowledge of his status as a hologram, but he doesn't seem any more sentient than your standard holocharacter beyond that.

The holocharacter of Professor Moriarty gained knowledge of the Enterprise and the physical world outside of the holosuite, and some sort of sentience, thanks to a bet that led to a hasty and poorly-thought request to the computer in Elementary, Dear Data (TNG S02E03):

PULASKI: Variations on a theme. Now, now do you see my point? All that he knows is stored in his memory banks. Inspiration, original thought, all the true strength of Holmes is not possible for our friend. I'll give you credit for your vast knowledge, but your circuits would just short out if confronted by a truly original mystery. It's elementary, dear Data.

LAFORGE: Now wait a minute, Doctor. We'll see whose circuits short out.

(They return to where they entered, under the watchful gaze of a man)

LAFORGE: Computer, arch.

PULASKI: Are you sure you want to put yourself through this, Lieutenant? Better wilted laurels than no laurels at all.

LAFORGE: Computer, override previous programme. Okay. A programme that definitely challenges Data.

PULASKI: Now it has to deal with events that he has no previous knowledge of.

LAFORGE: Computer, in the Holmesian style, create a mystery to confound Data with an opponent who has the ability to defeat him.

COMPUTER: Define parameters of programme.

PULASKI: What does that mean?

LAFORGE: Computer wants to know how far to take the game.

PULASKI: You mean it's giving you a chance to limit your risk.

LAFORGE: No, the parameters will be whatever is necessary in order to accomplish the directive. Create an adversary capable of defeating Data.

In order to defeat a sentient android of the 24th century, the computer created a sentient holocharacter with knowledge of the 24th century.

It has to be noted though, that Professor Moriarty still acted well within the parameters set for the character in the Sherlock Holmes novels, and didn't seemed to have exceeded his program in any way. So, whether he fully gained sentience is debatable.

When he is woken up four years later, in Ship in a bottle (TNG S06E12), he ends up trapping Picard and Data in a holodeck recreation of the Enterprise while threatening the real Enterprise with destruction, unless a way was found to take him out of the holodeck. He tricks Picard and Data to try various solutions in the holodeck then relays their ideas to the real crew.

The Doctor gained sentience little by little over time, thanks to coaching by Kes and a few other members of Voyager's crew and the many experiences he lived through while the ship made her way back to the Federation, coupled with the adaptability of his program.

By the second year, he had already developed friendships, hobbies and fallen in love once. However, he was also well over his planned running time, as stated by the holographic recreation of Doctor Lewis Zmmerman, creator of the program, acting as the diagnostic matrix in The Swarm (VOY S03E14):

ZIMMERMAN: Two years? Well there's your problem. This program was developed as a short term supplement to your medical staff, fifteen hundred hours tops.

Vic Fontaine was specifically created by Felix, a friend of Doctor Bashir who specializes in creating holoprogram, to be aware that he is a hologram living in a holosuite, and all that it entails, including knowing that the crew of DS9 are not part of the program.

As stated in His Way (DS9 S06E20):

BASHIR: Come on, I'll introduce you.

KIRA: To a hologram?

ODO: Doctor, is this really necessary?

BASHIR: Trust me, he's no ordinary hologram. Vic. You're terrific. Great.

VIC: Thanks, Doc.

O'BRIEN: Wonderful.

KIRA: Very nice.

VIC: I know what you're thinking. He has pretty sweet pipes for a light bulb.

DAX: Light bulb?

VIC: That's what I am, right? A collection of photons and forcefields. You know, your basic heuristic, fully interactive hologram.

O'BRIEN: He knows he's a hologram?

BASHIR: Felix designed him that way. He thought it gave him the right attitude for the era.

VIC: If you're going to work Vegas in the sixties, you'd better know the score. otherwise, you're going to look like a Clyde.

Vic being sentient is debatable, as he points himself that he is a 'basic heuristic, fully interactive hologram', the only difference with the others is that he has a knowledge of what he really is, instead of fully believing in the simulation.


To your question about intentionally creating a new lifeform/sentient in the holodeck I might suggest the character of Minuet as the closest possibility.

Prior to the program's initiation, the holodeck had been upgraded by the Bynars and it was immediately clear that Minuet was different from any other holodeck character.

In this case the Bynar's realized they had to create a sentient level character to distract Riker while they completed their Main computer backup. It is debatable as to the level of Minuet's sentience. Memory Alpha suggests: "she seemed to be aware of her status as a computer program; However, she was definitely far advanced of typical holodeck characters.

That leads to your question on a glitch. As the Bynar's efforts occurred before the events of Moriarty's creation, perhaps there was some leftover code in the holodeck. After all the Bynar's were under a great deal of stress at the time. It is possible they didn't fully remove what they had added. If so, it is possible that leftover code was accessed by the holodeck systems when creating Moriarty and could have contributed to his sentience.

If that was the case then it could also be possible that during routine access/maintenance/review of the Enterprise holodeck some of the advanced code introduced by the Bynar's could have been intentionally reused by other holodeck designers/programmers. After all the Bynar's were a master species of programming. Given human nature it is entirely reasonable that a Federation programmer might be in a position to 'borrow' advanced code without necessarily understanding all the potential impacts. Thus not so much a 'glitch' but an unexpected 'feature.'

Lending support to the idea of possible code re-use, or possibly even an unintentional re-use:
Wikipedia ST timeline

  • The events of Minuet occurred during 2364 according to the Wikipedia ST timeline. Per Memory Alpha the Emergency Medical Hologram was developed in the 2370s. Thus it would be possible for leftover code in the Enterprise holodeck to have been used during development of the EMH. In fact we know that at least one incarnation of the EMH was present on the Enterprise as seen during the movie First Contact. If an instance of the Enterprise EMH was uploaded back to the Jupiter Station Holoprogramming station the leftover code could have migrated back with it intentionally or otherwise in a viral fashion. From there it could have spread all over Starfleet with the EMH programs.

  • The events of Vic Fontaine were part of DS9 which also occurred starting in 2370. It would certainly not be out of character for the Ferengi to have 'acquired' some advanced leftover holodeck code.

  • 2
    Which scene in Generations featured an EMH? I know that an EMH has definitely been seen in First Contact where Crusher activates it and uses it to create a diversion to give her, her staff and her patients enough time to escape from Sickbay and the Borg pursuing them Jan 15, 2020 at 8:09
  • 1
    The Bynars created Minuet to act as a distraction. It is also clearly stated, by the end of the episode, that the Bynars removed the code they used, as Riker is unable to recreate her in the holodeck once the Bynars have left. Given their mastery at programming, it is highly unlikely that they left any trace of their code on the Enterprise's computers.
    – Sava
    Jan 15, 2020 at 12:58
  • As for Vic, he was created by a friend of Doctor Bashir named Felix, who is probably a Federation citizen. Quark's holosuites were only running the program brought by Doctor Bashir.
    – Sava
    Jan 15, 2020 at 12:59
  • The EMH was not seen on the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: Generations, it was on the Enterprise-E in Star Trek: First Contact..
    – T.J.L.
    Jan 15, 2020 at 16:56
  • @T.J.L. and SpacePhoenix. Thank you for the correction. Yep. My mistake. It was First Contact. I have corrected in the answer. Thanks.
    – beichst
    Jan 15, 2020 at 20:32

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