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Star Trek: The Original Series, & VR ~ The Cage

Topics Covered || Plot Synopsis || Topic Technicalities || Part of Set

Topics Covered

  • Virtual Reality
  • BMI
  • Ethical Implications


Pilot Episode
First Released for general viewing: 1988

Plot Synopsis

The USS Enterprise, under Captain Christopher Pike, encounters a strange distress call using old-fashioned radio waves emanating from The Talos system. From the age of the signal, it has been transmitting for 18 years.

The crew identifies the age and source of the signal, but Captain Pike declines to investigate without any indication of survivors. Shortly afterwards, Spock reports receiving a follow-up message from survivors on Talos IV.

The ship heads to that planet.

Upon arrival, and subsequent beam-down, a makeshift campsite is discovered, run by a dishevelled group of scientists who were on the survey ship SS Columbia - a missing starship that apparently crashed on this planet.

Pike notices a shyly advancing beautiful young woman among the crowd. The only young person in the group. One of the scientists tells Pike that she was born during the crash, and is called Vina.
Vina examines Pike and smiles, telling him he is "a prime specimen".

The scene switches to a group of strange beings with greatly enlarged craniums, watching everything unfold on a monitor control.

Vina leads Pike away from the group, towards a cavern. As soon as he enters, Vina vanishes, as do the other survivors, and the makeshift camp. Two of the same creatures from earlier, grab Pike, and a previously unseen door slams shut over the cavern entrance.

Pike wakes up inside a small cell, with a forcefield along one wall. Several other species are in similar cells along a hallway beyond the forcefield. A group of the alien creatures shortly appear who discuss Pike in a coldly scientific manner, not dissimilar to a surgeon leading a group of medical students.

They make many cold-hearted scientific observations, many of which are telepathic, and refer to him as "the specimen" stating that they will soon begin "the experiment".

Pike's cell then vanishes, and in its place, one reality after another, each with Vina as the central attraction, each complete in every fine detail, a bubble of perfect reality with her at the centre.

Through the course of these events, Pike determines that the Talosians have severely weakened their world as a consequence of continual mental manipulation.

Pike and Vina are breeding stock to repopulate the planet.

Having determined that strong primal emotions cancel out the Talosian ability to read his mind, Pike manages to take a Talosian magistrate hostage. He escapes with his crew and Vina to the surface.

Pike's first officer sets her weapon to overload, when the Talosians surround the surface group. The crew would rather die than become breeding stock on a desolate alien world.

Backing down under the threat of such self-sacrifice, the Talosians rethink this species' suitability for breeding, and decide it would be pointless to try.

Pike asks if mutual understanding or trade might not accomplish the restoration of the planet for the Talosians but is told that Humans would learn the Talosians' power of illusion and destroy themselves just as the Talosians had.

Pike and crew are free to go, but Vina, despite her attraction to Pike, says she cannot go with them. After the others transport aboard, the Talosians show Pike Vina's true appearance - underneath the Talosian illusions, she is badly deformed from the crash of the Columbia.

The Talosians agree to take care of Vina and provide her with endless illusionary worlds, and an illusionary Pike to keep her company.

Topic Technicalities

Ignoring the many gaping plot holes for a moment, this episode, the first in a multi-decade series that returns again and again to the issues that surround VR and AR, gets off on the right foot.

Perfect VR

The entire plot revolves around the Talosian's ability to create any kind of virtual reality, and implant it into the mind of the participant directly. This is not science fiction, this is BMI, or Brain Machine Interface - hooking a virtual reality engine directly to the mind, bypassing physical senses and muscle actuators.

In our world, the technology is still very much in its infancy.

However, if you look at it logically, there is no scientific fallacy here: If you bypass the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, proprioception, and balance, we have no other sensory inputs from the outside world, so the data being fed in, shapes our world in its entirety.

If you then go a stage further, and block muscle activation, by first reading, then blocking commands sent from the brain to voluntary muscles only, you effectively paralyse the body. The brain still thinks everything is moving as it should, as the commands to move muscles are read, understood, and then the proprioception and other sensory inputs adjusted accordingly in the feedback stream. In other words, go to lift your hand, the signal is sent to your hand muscles, read by machine, blocked from completing the journey, and your hand never moves. However, in the VR, you see and feel your hand move as you told it to, because that is what the simulation recreates.

Ethical Dilemmas

This kind of perfect VR raises serious ethical quandaries. In the episode, Captain Pike did not realise he was in a virtual environment at first - he only realised it at all, when he was confronted by Vina, over and over. When such a compete sensory VR is possible, we will need to be very careful, for if you can replace the senses so entirely - which is theoretically extremely possible - then you could get into the situation where you were able to impose a new virtual reality on someone completely without their willing participation.

Straight away you are into brainwashing territory. It would be possible to set up any situation, such that
A target person would be beguiled into divulging secret information, or psychologically damaged to aid the purpose of another.

These issues will require much careful thought, before BMI matures.

Too Much VR

"Through the course of these events, Pike determines that the Talosians have severely weakened their world as a consequence of continual mental manipulation."

This is actually a poignant point.

Given the addiction of VR, and the prospect of a life infinitely richer than your own, it is the path of happiness, for so many, and would solve practically all of society's problems, to be able to be immersed in a world that was your own version of paradise, whether individually, or as a group.

Unfortunately, this would result in few or no humans to run the world, leaving that most likely, up to robotic systems, and sensor networks. The problem there is that should something go wrong - in the Talosian's case, nuclear meltdown - then there is no-one left in the physical reality to sort things out.

We are a long, long way from this scenario, of course, but again there is nothing in scientific theory preventing it from occurring.

Perhaps mandatory breaks from virtual life will be needed, or a 'retirement age' at which point you either come out of VR, or have the option to go in, with full life immersion available only to those who are truly better off. That would be the cripplingly disabled - to the point that going through a normal life was sheer hell to them.

A third option is that just perhaps the totality of VR immersion should be avoided. Immerse into the virtual environment as much as you like, but maintain a conduit to the outside world, and check in there regularly - even if it is only through the virtual form, that you do.

Part of Set

Star Trek: The Original Series

A complete listing of Star Trek: TOS, built up one by one in chronological order, regardless of the strength of their connection to VR & AR. Set included for the sake of completeness.


Star Trek: The Original Series, & VR

A complete listing of Star Trek: TOS which reference virtual reality, alternate lives, AI, ir augmented reality. They are built up one by one in chronological order.

Staff Comments


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