Updated: Feb 18, 2021
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation season 3 episode – The Offspring, Data creates his own child/android named Lal. This act of procreation sparked the ire and interest of the both Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Admiral Anthony Haftel. Essentially, Admiral Haftel argued that the “android” should be taken away from Data in order to learn from Star Fleet experts, while Picard argued that the “child” should remain on the ship to be with her father.
Throughout this process, Lal begins to question her own existence, life, and purpose. Thus, the father and child discuss the purpose of life as shown below.
Lal: Father, what is my purpose?
Lal: My function. My reason for being.
Data: That is a complex question, Lal. I can only begin to answer by telling you that our function is to contribute in a positive way to the world in which we live.
Lal: Why am I me? Instead of someone else?
Data: Because you are my child.
The conversation goes on to discuss why Lal, as an android, is now able to contemplate these questions as a natural process of becoming self-aware. More specifically, Lal begins to become conscious, transcending the boundary between machine and sentience. The major significance of this conversation is that two androids are contemplating the meaning of life, but still within the silhouette of humanity. In the Star Trek Universe, it may be the first time two androids or even AIs discuss the question.
Previously, in the episode "Measure of Man”, it was determined that Data was self-ware, conscious, and intelligent. Thus, he was more than a machine and had individual rights. Interestingly, although by the end of the episode, Lal develops "feelings" and expresses her love towards Data... Data himself is unable to return the feeling--yet, he chose the name Lal for her, which is Hindu for “beloved”.
Naturally, there are a lot of other great philosophical questions raised in the episode, so if you are interested in seeing it, make sure to check it out.
In any case, what do you think of Data’s answer to the question of the purpose of life? Is the meaning of life discussed in any other Star Trek episodes? Let us know by commenting below.