In "Redemption part II" the former captain of the USS Sutherland (Lt. Cdr. Hobson) accuses Data of not caring about any of the individuals onboard, after the latter proposes a maneuver which would flood certain decks with radiation.

Data doesn't answer this charge, but considering his lack of emotions, it seems to be correct. Data doesn't care at all, not only about those on the Sutherland, but about those on the Enterprise, including Geordi, Spot, and himself, even.

Is this accurate? Is it correct to say that Data doesn't "care"? Or is this simply a caricature of Data?

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    I would say even though data doesnt have emotions he has given himself Ideas of what caring is, and who he should care about, in example in Nemesis he sacrifices himself for the crew and Picard. I believe that he learns to care despite emotions.
    – Himarm
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 21:54
  • Are you talking about Data pre or post getting his emotion chip installed? There's a huge difference in his personality
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 21:55
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    Classic Data, before the stupid emotion chip.
    – user30592
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 21:55
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    The question is unanswerable. We don't even know if humans truly care about anything. We think we know what "caring about something" looks like, but those reactions and gestures can be faked. Actors do it as a profession.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 23:19
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    A human officer could have proposed that same maneuver; Data simply arrived at it more quickly, and proposed it without wringing his hands or wrinkling his brow. To quote another character in another ST series, "do not mistake composure for ease".
    – Beta
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 13:48

6 Answers 6


At the point that he orders the Sutherland's phasers back online (exposing a number of crewmen to dangerous levels of radiation), Data is trying to balance three conflicting tensions:

His 'ethical subroutines'

Data's inbuilt ethical programming guarantees that his conduct must, at all times be beyond reproach. He cannot act wantonly or with reckless disregard for the wellbeing of others:

DATA: My creator, Doctor Soong, gave me a program which defines my sense of right and wrong. In essence, I have a conscience. - TNG: Descent, Part I

The need to preserve the ship and the safety of the majority of the lives on board.

We see an almost identical situation in the training program that Troi goes through in order to become a Bridge Commander. The ship is at risk of explosion and she is forced to sacrifice the life of a fellow officer in order to preserve the ship:

WORF : Sir. That crawlway is in a warp plasma shaft. He would never survive the radiation.

Troi steels herself.

TROI : I know that. Geordi, could you repair the conduit?

GEORDI : I...think so.

This is one of the hardest things Troi has ever done... and she struggles with it for a moment before facing Geordi directly and making the decision.

TROI : Then do it. (beat) That's an order.

Geordi glances at Worf, then accepts his fate.

GEORDI : Aye, sir. - TNG: Thine Own Self

The need to fulfill the wider mission

Data, like most Federation captains is privy to the full details of the fleet's battle plans. Not only have their actions been specifically authorised by both Starfleet Command and the Federation Council but it's clear that the UFP expect their commanders to have complete grasp of the geopolitical ramifications of their actions. Although the Federation don't wish to involve themselves in the internal affairs of the Klingon Empire, it's pretty obvious which side they want to win.

When an opportunity presents itself to expose the Romulan fleet, Data seizes it even though there's a cost to his own ship and crew.


Yes, he does care but there are bigger issues at stake than the lives of a single ship's crew.


From the episodes Legacy and Time's Arrow, there is this quote from Data:

As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent.

This sounds a lot like caring about something, whether it's a person, object, or action. This can be taken as [neural] network prediction algorithms, but the quote specifically uses the word missed implying more than just algorithms.

Another example from is The Measure Of A Man, where Picard asks Data about his possessions. Here's the video and a summary from Memory-Alpha:

Picard then calls Data to the witness stand and shows the court some of the android's personal belongings, the items Data had packed in preparation of his resignation: a plaque of his Starfleet medals, a book that was given to him by his captain, and a holocube portrait of Tasha Yar. Picard asks Data, what purpose do any of these articles serve him? Of the Starfleet medals, he answers that they serve no purpose other than that he simply wanted them, wondering if that demonstrates vanity. Of the book, Data says that it is a reminder of his friendship and service with the captain.

Picard questions Data about the holocube of Tasha Yar, stating for the record that he has "no other portraits of his fellow crewmantes." Data replies that he would prefer not to answer any questions related to Yar, as he had given his word to her to not speak of the matter. Picard gently reminds Data that considering the circumstances, he doesn't believe that Tasha would mind. Data reveals, with what can only be interpreted as discomfort, that she was special to him because they they had been intimate with one another - eliciting a raised eyebrow from Captain Louvois.

He clearly considers certain things valuable in some way beyond a calculation (such as a statistical anomaly), once again showing aka he cares about stuff.

His maneuver idea probably came from his usually greater ability to find options ("thinking outside the box") and analyze the probability of success than most organics because many would subconsciously block such ideas from their mind.


One particular pre-emotion-chip instance stands out in which Data demonstrates "caring" that outweighs his programming. In the episode The Most Toys, (1990), Kivas Fajo kills Varria for helping Data escape from his "collection", and states that he will kill someone whenever Data escapes in the future. Fajo believes that causing people's deaths by escaping would violate Data's programming, and is unconcerned about the possibility that Data will harm him since to do so would also violate his programming. Clearly conflicted, Data eventually says "I cannot allow this to continue." He fires the Varan-T Disruptor at Fajo, but is beamed away to the Enterprise before the beam can kill him. In an outcome that seems extremely significant but is never touched on again, Data then lies about the attempted homicide to Riker.

The Enterprise suddenly beams Data back aboard, discovering that the disruptor was in the process of discharging. Data is met in the transporter room by Commander Riker, and requests that Fajo be taken into custody, with Riker responding that arrangements have already been made. When Riker asks why the disruptor was energized, Data only offers that something may have happened during transport.

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    He didn't lie about the attempted homicide; Riker never asked Data if such an attempt was made.
    – user30592
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 0:53
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    @T-1000: Data certainly wasn't truthful. Data's posture the moment he is beamed out clearly shows that he intends to fire the weapon at Fajo. On the Enterprise, O'Brien noted that the weapon was in the process of discharging. Riker looks back in alarm, and then they deactivate it before rematerializing Data on the pad. When Riker asks Data about it, Data replies that it must have malfunctioned. I can only interpret that as a lie.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 1:43
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    I don't think Data said that. I think he said, "Something must have happened during transport." I don't recall the malfunction line.
    – user30592
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 1:50
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    For a being who values extreme precision and accuracy in all his responses, Data is deliberately obfuscating in answering Riker. Data is lying to avoid having a difficult conversation about his decision and trusting Riker to not press the issue. "Mr. O'Brien said that the weapon was in a state of discharge." "Perhaps something occurred during transport, Commander." - Riker and Data after Data fired on Fajo
    – Schwern
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 19:49
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    I believe it is masterful communication. The "perhaps" makes all the difference - he is suggesting something outlandish in order to communicate the situation to Riker without saying it outright. Riker knew to leave it alone.
    – mskfisher
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 20:28

The purpose of the episode and many like it, and the whole of Data's character on the show, are to explore this question: is an artificial life form alive? Is it sentient? Is it aware of and responsible for its actions? What is life? What is sentience?

The answer Starfleet gives is... maybe.

TNG tackles this question directly in The Measure Of A Man where Data's sentience, and thus rights as a sentient being, are literally put on trial. The trial concludes by acknowledging that we will never truly know the answer, and thus should be conservative on the point. Picard makes the point elegantly...

"Now tell me, Commander, what is Data?"
"I don't understand."
"What is he?"
"A machine!"
"Is he? Are you sure?"
"You see he's met two of your three criteria for sentience, so what
 if he meets the third, consciousness, in even the smallest degree?
 What is he then? I don't know, do you? (to Riker) Do you?
 (to Phillipa) Do you?"

    - Picard and Maddox (The Measure Of A Man)

Because Starfleet's role is to seek out life, they take a deliberately conservative view on the subject of sentience to avoid inadvertently stomping on the rights of a sentient creature.

Starfleet is also eager to avoid prejudice, and recognizes that assuming sentience is limited to carbon-base life forms is prejudice. Spock's apocryphal quip that "it's life, but not as we know it" encapsulates that idea.

While there is always doubt and resistance, from Data to The Doctor to the Crystalline Entity, non-biological life forms which act as if they are sentient are given sentient status.

As to whether Data actually cares, the answer to that question is another question. How do you know that humans care? If you can answer that without anthropomorphizing and prejudicing towards meat brains, you will win a Nobel Prize.

Despite Data's own protests, he has certainly acted as if he cares in many situations. Richard's post outlines all the problems Data is weighing as a commander, just like a biological commander would. The difference is that Data is (usually, but not always) self-aware of his complete decision making process and could probably explain it in excruciating detail. Is this significant? Because Data's brain was constructed in a lab rather than grown in a womb does that disqualify him from sentience?

A lot of people would say yes, it does disqualify him, but be unable to give a concrete reason. Often these arguments fall back to stating that Data lacks a "soul", but using other terms. This is exactly the prejudice Starfleet tries to avoid.

Measure Of A Man, and the later Voyger episode Author, Author, discuss the darker side to the arguments against sentience: slavery. Computers, Data, and holograms, were built as servants to do things cheaper, more efficiently and safer than biological sentience life forms can. In Measure Of A Man, Maddox wishes to take Data apart to build more of him. Guinan correctly raises the specter of property and slavery.

"Consider that in the history of many worlds there have always been
 disposable creatures. They do the dirty work. They do the work that
 no one else wants to do, because it's too difficult or too hazardous.
 And an army of Datas, all disposable? You don't have to think about
 their welfare; you don't think about how they feel. Whole generations
 of disposable people."
"You're talking about slavery."
"I think that's a little harsh."
"I don't think that's a little harsh, I think that's the truth. But that's
 a truth that we have obscured behind a... comfortable, easy euphemism.
 'Property'. But that's not the issue at all, is it?"

    - Guinan and Picard

There is an economic pressure to give servants a lower status in order to morally justify exploiting them. Whether that is social status, racial status, or going as far as to state they lack sentience. Much of the arguments against assigning Data and The Doctor sentience can be traced straight back to the unease at letting go of this cheap form of labor. Author, Author goes so far as to actually show EMH Mark 1 holograms laboring in mines. If you define something as sentient, you can't exploit them without acknowledging that you are now slavers.

That this is beginning to sound an awful lot like a sophomore philosophy class is not a coincidence. Star Trek is intended to tackle philosophical questions. While the series has, often of late and completely in the reboot, lost its way in this regard, it has had its moments. Measure Of A Man was many people's first real challenge to their ideas of what sentience is.

As an aside, there have been cases when Data is unable to explain his likes and dislikes, often stating that "it pleases me". I feel the writers of the show are attempting to imbue Data with a spiritual nature, a soul, and a rich internal life. Data has dreams, he's more like us. Data keeps sentimental items around and cannot explain why, he's more like us. In doing so, they are anthropomorphizing him and making the question of whether he is sentience easier for the audience to handle. I feel this waters down the basic discussion about sentience, that we should be able to accept other cultures and forms of life without the need to make them familiar and comfortable.


Here's a quote from later in the episode, where Data submits himself for disciplinary action.

Data: Sir, I wish to submit myself for disciplinary action. I disobeyed a direct order from a superior officer. Although there was a positive outcome as a result of my actions, I have learned that... the ends cannot justify the means. - Redemption, Part II

So he very clearly 'cares' about the consequences of his actions, these actions included. Enough so that he submits himself to disciplinary action, unprompted.


I would watch In Theory again....its made clear he doesnt really care one way or another but it seems goes by his programing which is to emulate humans so he does so to the best, hes like a machine without the ghost before he gets the emotion chip after that you could argue far more safely that he was truly sentient and could truly care. Dont mean to poo poo the other answers here but it was said by his father that he was not finished and the emotion chip was the key to making him truly care and know sentients like humans.

  • Soong never said that Data was incomplete; the emotion chip was an afterthought because Data was built without emotions on purpose. I don't think that this answer can really hold water when put into the context of the arguments presented in the other answers here. Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 8:00

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