Star Trek (1966–1969)
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The Ultimate Computer 

Kirk and a sub-skeleton crew are ordered to test out an advanced artificially intelligent control system - the M-5 Multitronic system, which could potentially render them all redundant. Star fleet is very optimistic, but, Kirk fears - even in a testing situation - removing humans from the equation is a very dangerous position to be left in. A position of life or death.


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Captain Kirk replies to an urgent (yet brief) message from Commodore Enright, which only tells him to report to the nearest space station. Once there, most of the crew is removed - held in a security area, leaving only a minimal skeleton crew on-board. Commodore Bob Wesley arrives, and informs the captain he's the unwitting 'fox in the hunt;' of simulated war games to be played. The purpose? To put the so far only-rumoured-to-exist M-5 Multitronic unit - through its paces. The M-5 computer is the latest invention of the brilliant Dr. Richard Daystrom, creator of the Duotronic computer systems, which power Enterprise, and many other high-end systems. Daystrom is confidant his unit can not only take control of the starship, but do a better job than humans can. At first, the Enterprise under M-5's control easily defeats two other starships, but, quickly begins to act independently of its human masters, Daystrom has little interest in disconnecting the M-5 and treats it more like an ... Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

8 March 1968 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


In addition to playing his regular role of Chief Engineer "Scotty" Scott, in this episode James Doohan also provides the voice of the computer M-5, as well as that of the briefly heard and unnamed starbase officer who gives Commodore Wesley and the other starship commanders permission to destroy the Enterprise. See more »


Daystrom claims he want M-5 to supplant all human space exploration. But after analyzing the planet in the first test scenario, M-5 still requires an experienced crew and a science officer to make the actual examination of the planet. See more »


Dr. Richard Daystrom: It takes four hundred thirty people to man a starship. With this, you don't need anyone. One machine can do all those things they send men out to do now. Men no longer need die in space, or on some alien world. Men can live, and go on to achieve greater things than fact-finding and dying for galactic space, which is neither ours to give or to take. Can't understand. We don't want to destroy life, we want to save it.
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Referenced in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Field Mice (2010) See more »

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User Reviews

Blacula sics HAL 9000 on Captain Dunsel
13 August 2006 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

The episode that Stanley Kubrick stole his most important ideas from for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of course, that's not exactly true. The idea of an artificially intelligent computer becoming a problem popped up in science-fiction at least shortly after Alan Turing re-popularized the idea of artificial intelligence in the 1950s via what's become known as the "Turing Test" for just that property. Also, Kubrick's 2001, written in conjunction with sci-fi novelist Arthur C. Clarke, began production in 1965, and there are more ideas there than just AI gone haywire, as there are in The Ultimate Computer. But this episode underscores that Star Trek deserves consideration as "serious artwork", consideration that it doesn't often receive outside of the Trekkie community. Even though Star Trek didn't likely influence 2001, the reverse isn't the case, either; rather, both works arrived at similar ideas due to mindfulness towards relatively cutting edge ideas in science and science fiction.

By this point, in case you're looking for a plot summary, you surely know that The Ultimate Computer has something to do with an artificially intelligent computer. It arrives on board the Enterprise courtesy of Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshall, soon after The Ultimate Computer to forever be best known as Blacula), a computer genius who long ago designed the basics of the system currently employed on the Enterprise. To test his new system, which is supposed to be able to run the ship more or less by itself, Starfleet orders all but 20 crew members off of the Enterprise and organizes a fairly elaborate war game scenario. Of course, we know as soon as we find out the premise that it's probably a recipe for some kind of disaster.

Aside from the usual AI kinda themes, writers Gene Roddenberry, Laurence N. Wolfe and D.C. Fontana use the episode for a nice exploration of ill-conceived idealism, more general technological skepticism and unease, overly fervent parental apologetics, and difficult utilitarian ethical decisions. The performances are excellent as always (and I always wished that Marshall would have had a more prolific career), and we get a bonus treat of a very Kirk-like head of another Starfleet ship, Commodore Robert Wesley (Barry Russo).

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