What we can learn about AI and VR from watching way too much Star Trek

“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today - but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.” – Isaac Asimov

As one of the many people in technology today who grew up watching, or just later discovered the Star Trek universe, the work we do is at times influenced by the life lessons we learned from the intrepid characters zooming around the galaxy at warp speed seeking out new life and new civilizations.

While there are many many take aways from the show and at this point probably several “best episode” guides, in this post I'm going to be specifically looking at episodes across the series that address possible outcomes of developments of artificial intelligence and virtual reality systems.

For those who are curious, I've started to put together a spreadsheet with notes about episodes that I find relevant and below you can find some discussion on the topic that focuses on some crucial episodes. In a future post I may investigate some of the other stories in more detail as well.

As a side note, while at the moment the two fields are not closely tied together, in the future there will be a tight relationship between AI and VR, in so much as realistic characters will be needed to populate extended reality worlds and likewise many artificial intelligences may themselves need virtual environments as a platform for existence. Within the world of Star Trek it can be difficult to address one without considering the other to some extent.

Warning: Lots of spoilers.

Accidental Emergent Intelligence From Complex Systems

In several episodes computer systems of some kind reach a level of complexity where they can be considered lifeforms themselves. Given the mission statement of Starfleet, these situations needs to be dealt with very carefully.

When talking about machines that are far beyond the capabilities of sensory, computing and comprehension power of your everyday humanoid, the systems described here are more than just AI, they are Super Intelligences, a concept difficult for humans to interact with because their forms make them more like gods, with the ability to see and hear everything within their domain, control environment and may have motivations or moralities that we can not easily relate to.

M-5: The Ultimate Computer

An episode that sets the stage for how Starfleet deals with intentionally created AI based lifeforms in general is “The Ultimate Computer” where the M-5 computer is the first computer designed to control an entire ship without the need of a crew. Its creator says this will save humans from having to go on dangerous missions in space whereas the crew sees it as a machine taking away a job that they do for enjoyment and personal growth in spite of the risks.

The M-5 of course was created using the engrams of its creator (not a starship captain for some reason?) and its motivation for self preservation drives it to start killing people in order to protect itself above all else until Kirk can trick it into self destructing.

This brings up a lot of questions about the limitations of encoding the human mind in a machine that does not take the physical form of a human, having sensory information far greater than the human mind is capable of handling. In the case of M-5, the result was akin to insanity and presumably after this Starfleet and The Federation put in place heavy regulation when it came to working with AI that could be classified as a new lifeforms, in the same way that certain forms of genetic manipulation is illegal within their society.

The missed opportunity of the M-5 (and most other system systems that come after it in the Star Trek universe) is the idea of a ship AI as a member of the crew or as a friend; in many ways the idea of computers as slaves, not friends or peers, is a major part of the early capitalist dream of AI that has not yet died out.

The Enterprise Computer: EvolutionEmergence

While not particularly noteworthy compared to the M-5 case, in two situations on TNG there are episodes where the ships computer begins to show signs that it is becoming sentient.

In “Evolution” this is a result of a bunch of nanites eating up the computer core and rapidly evolving into a Super Intelligence. First contact is made when Data allows the nanites to use him as a conduit for communication with humans.

A similar episode called “Emergence” revolves around the ship computer itself beginning to show signs of autonomous behavior, first showing signs of an instinct for self preservation by saving itself (and the crew) by detecting a dangerous situation overlooked by the crew and then later by trying to locate resources that it needs for the new super intelligence to leave the confines of the ship. Because the computer engineers in Starfleet are apparently discouraged from creating new lifeforms that can not be understood, the AI of the ship is crippled, and despite having a verbal interface for receiving commands and responding with information it was never taught to communicate its own thoughts and ideas in a meaningful way with the crew which leads to yet another awkward first contact with an artificial lifeform that humans created to be slaves. Maybe this is why when the computer becomes self aware it immediately wants to build itself a new body and get off the ship.

Exocomps: The Quality of Life

While not on the scale of intelligence as the Enterprise computer or the M-5 another prime example of emergent AI are the thinking tools known as Exocomps. Like other systems in this section the Exocomps begin act oddly in a way that is interpreted by commander Data as self preservation. The creator of the Exocomps insists that they are just smart tools that use machine learning techniques to adapt to different situations that seem to go haywire after they've accumulated too much data. Once again this seems to be a case where Starfleet intentionally creates a machine that is designed to freely think but only within limited parameters as a servant and is crippled in a way that makes it unable to communicate with humans as it gains sentience... yet again leading to a very awkward first contact.

Simulations Of Human-level Intelligence

One of the common things we see on the holo-deck or similar forms is computer simulations of people of “normal” intelligence levels. By normal I mean that they aren't a character on par with an artificial super intelligence like the ones discussed under emergent intelligence, or a character like Q that is capable of thinking in a terms far beyond conventional capabilities.

Perhaps the most noteworthy simulations of human-like intelligence in the series are Data and The Doctor. While they are both far beyond human capabilities in nearly all respects, whether or not they are considered lifeforms, as well as their legal rights as part of the Federation are in a sort of to-be-determined state throughout the series.


It is hard to not start off any discussion about Data and his rights as an individual without “The Measure of a Man” where Star Trek begins to confront a hard truth about creating self aware artificial lifeforms as a workforce – are we creating a slave race?

In spite of having some legal standing within The Federation, we could put together a pretty fun super cut of all the times when Data encounters people who do not believe that android are capable of being full members of society. Here are two examples (Inheritance / Redemption: Part 2)

That said, given what we've experienced about algorithms being followed blindly in our own society in 2017 it doesn't seem wholly unreasonable to question whether or not machines will ever be capable of functioning without some human checking its results.

In most Star Trek series there is a character or two who are dealing with their own inner conflict of trying to merge their own background with humanity and this is often a trope for the show to reflect our own attempts to fit into society. This is a speciality for TNG episodes involving Data, including an episode called “In Theory” where he tries out having a human girlfriend. Things go pretty well for a while but it isn't meant to be. There are plenty of other examples where the question of how good of a stand in for a human mate Data can be.

But hey, at the end of the day who isn't drawing upon various cultural and literary sources to define their role in a relationship to some extent, amirite?

Holograms and the EMH

Unfortunately for the holograms of the Star Trek universe the rights afforded to androids like Data are not extended to simulated lifeforms, even ones that are acknowledged as fully sentient. Within TNG for the most part these characters are mindless, soulless puppets and often the concern in these stories isn't for the AIs themselves, but for how they are being used by the crew in different ways (in a section below we will examine holo-addiction / holo-therapy). This is quite different from Voyager where the idea that the AI's themselves are in many ways victims of being used by biological lifeforms throughout the galaxy becomes a larg part of the plot in later seasons.

Though the EMH is not the first hologram that we see in Star Trek he is widely acknowledged as a new breakthrough and his creator Lawrence Zimmerman is noted as the father of modern holography. What makes the EMH unique is that he is perhaps the first hologram created by Starfleet that is intentionally a self aware simulation of a human mind that exists as a hologram. Before the EMH the only such hologram we are introduced to is Moriarty who in the episode “Ship in a Bottle” is very unhappy after being stored in memory for years.

How was the EMH made? Basically by taking the engrams of a bunch of people, merging them together into a simulation of the human brain and hoping that it doesn't go insane while it tries to cope with the knowledge that it is a human that is condemned to live as a hologram in service of flesh and blood humans. Though he has some success in learning music and other skills not included in his original programming through experience, in some episodes the EMH runs into unanticipated ethical problems or otherwise tries to insert new personality bits from historic figures into his programming and the end result is madness. As we later learn the EMH mark 1 is essentially scrapped and repurposed as ore miners in favor of newer editions that are more sociable out of the box but apparently also less capable of growth.

Starfleet is well aware that it can not trust all holograms to be self aware; this would remove all of the fun of their holo-deck programs used for recreation. In the Voyager episode “Spirit Folk” we get a look at what can happen when the perceptual filter subroutines go offline. Though at the end of the episode the crew agrees to let the characters keep the knowledge that they are a simulation it seems that shortly after this incident they lose interest in Fair Haven and stop simulating it, either deleting it to save space or storing it frozen in protected memory.

When it comes to the EMH, his programming includes ethical subroutines which in the episode series “Equinox” we discover they can be easily deleted. In the later episode of ”Critical Care” the EMH finds he can in some cases ignore these subroutines without any external interference if they contradict with his other programming to save lives.

To again revisit the point that the EMH is the first of what is essentially the slave race of AI that Picard specifically warned Starfleet about. In a flashback scene we are shown how the EMH is first introduced to Janeway with the added throwaway note that they are thinking about installing the system throughout the fleet. It isn't until years later in the episode “Author, Author” that the topic of holographic rights within The Federation is finally addressed though by this point the crew of Voyager had encountered many alien races in the delta quadrant that were at war with holograms that had been mistreated (eg in “Flesh & Blood” where a group of enhanced holograms escape the Hirogen who hunt them as prey) in similar parallels to humanity.

One of my favorite holographic characters from Star Trek is Vic Fontaine who appears in the later seasons of DS9. Like the EMH, Vic is a simulation of a human and self aware. It isn't entirely clear who created Vic (we never meet the mysterious Felix referred to), only that Bashir knows someone who deals in specialty holograms. When you consider that sentient beings typically have rights and that AI is likely highly regulated it is possible that Vic's creation was illegal within The Federation, not to mention the ethical implications of owning another sentient being, hologram or not. In either case, Vic doesn't seem to mind and actively seems to enjoy his existence, particularly when he's given the ability to stay on all the time.

Here at long last is an example from Star Trek where a sentient AI is created just to be your pal – Vic is there to help with lessons in being cool, getting over the loss of a love or some existential conversation.

Holo-Addiction / Holo-Therapy

Several characters over the course of the series become addicted to using the holo-deck in some fashion, but this is countered with the idea that the holo-deck can be used for therapy as well.

For his first appearance in “Hollow Pursuits”, Lt Barkley is introduced a smart but very socially awkward member of the crew who begins to program fantasy worlds on the holo-deck that involve his fellow crew mates as puppets. When his addiction begins to hurt his ability to function on the ship, his secret life is discovered. This episode is not alone in asking what the boundaries of simulating other people as puppets for your own purposes but it does have some of the more creepy moments. Similarly on Voyager in “Human Error” Seven of Nine starts off trying to use the holo-deck as a means of simulating relationships with the crew as part of learning to integrate with humanity only to find that she begins to become addicted to her fantasy experiences.

Perhaps just a notch down on the ladder of creepy is this scene where Riker is encouraged to try out the new holo-deck. Though it is unclear to what extent this is common practice in the holo-deck for play puppets, Voyager also floats that idea that in some cases this sort of technology could be used consensually, say if your spouse is on the other side of the galaxy when Vulcan mating season hits. 

In the episode “It's Only a Paper Moon” from DS9 we get to see how the holo-deck can be used for therapeutic purposes. When Nog comes back from fighting against The Dominion with PTSD at first he is distant from his friends and then he begins to spend more time on the holo-deck. Instead of seeing this as a bad thing Doctor Bashir and Ezri consider this a sign that he's seeking help by nontraditional means.

The original chat-bot created in the 1970's was Eliza, a computer therapist whose creator then wrote a book on the subject of how machines could never be good therapists for humans because they could not relate to the human condition, no matter how advanced they may become. The holo-deck ability to create actual living simulated beings is perhaps one extreme technical workaround to this theoretical limitation. However I suppose we might also expect that like most therapists, even simulated holographic ones, they may need sessions with their own counselors to make it through the week.

While the master list that I've started to put together contains a lot more episodes to talk about, I'll leave it up to you to go check them out on your own. I hope you've enjoyed this post and MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!

Doctor Who / Orphan Black Fan Parties At Comic Con San Diego 2015

Quick recap from last weekend – Just got back from filling in as DJ / VJ with the Eclectic Method at Comic Con San Diego at the fan meet ups for Orphan Black and Doctor Who. As a huge fan of both shows it was a special honor to be up on stage doing my thing alongside the stars and writers from the shows.

BBC America has official run downs of each event, keep a look out for a certain nerd behind a laptop in these videos,

I also took a couple of photos of random people who had some awesome (assorted) costumes,

And these were two of my favorite moments from the meet ups that I managed to catch on video,

That's about it! Hope the fans who made it out had a great time just like me!

TV Comment Bot

Last weekend I participated in an event here in Brooklyn called Art Hack Day where a bunch of artists and technologists with different skill sets all got together to implement new projects in 36 hours and finish with a gallery opening. I teamed up with David Newbury and Blair Neal on an installation we called “TV Helper” which is now also running as a Twitter-bot called TV Comment Bot.

The TV Helper is designed to make new TV shows out of existing ones by inserting new subtitle text over any video feed, replacing the original plot and dialogue of the show being watched. When possible the TV Helper algorithms will reference specific objects it “sees” in the video stream in the plot lines being created.

Additionally the genre of the new show can be a customized by the viewer using the set of provided knobs to be a mix of 8 different styles: Sports, News, Politics, Humor, Crime, NASCAR, Religion and Horror.

Here are some of my favorite results of feed from the home edition that is now running 24/7 since the Super Bowl on Feb 1st. You can find hundreds more on the Twitter feed.

If you're interested in hacking together a bit of this yourself, the two main tools used were the DeepBeliefSDK based analysis app that I wrote recently and this MadLibs generator created by David Newbury. We combined these using Quartz Composer / Syphon / OSC to create the simply text overlays for display.

The whole thing looked a bit like this behind the scenes:

Early display prototype.

Signal path sketch.

Software screenshot.

Testing, testing.

Me with the project!

Home edition.

Since this can run in real-time I'm also curious to try this out as an additional overlay during a VJ set in the future. We'll see how that goes.

Lastly a huge shout out to the Art Hack Day organizers for baby sitting all us artists while we worked. If you'd like to see more of the results from the event my friend Alejandro blogged about the awesome Oculus / Unity drowning game they made. You can find additional photos of the action (several of which are on this page!) on Margarida Malarkey's site.

[Update] Also on Art Hack Day: Deluge, read the details on the cool WiFi Taser by Max Henstell and another write up in this Makezine post.

[Update 2] Below are some more recent pictures from the Apple WWDC event, political press events and of course TV.

How to Escape The Twilight Zone

Submitted for your approval,

While most encounters with The Twilight Zone result in terrible death, loss of sanity or other horrible misfortune, a few lucky souls manage to survive their brush with the unknown and come out on the other side. 

Embedded inside every episode of the Twilight Zone is a nugget of truth about human nature or society. While these stories did not take place in the real world, they often contained real world truths about the dangers of bigotry, superstition, censorship, fear mongering, and emphasized the need to cling on to the best parts of our humanity as we become more technologically advanced.

In an effort to learn some life lessons about how to survive one of the darker places of the human imagination, I’ve started to put together this list of special episodes where things don't go completely terribly wrong.

As a note, before you get started in here, there are several spoilers. Those who aren't already avid fans of the Twilight Zone will probably want to watch all 156 episodes of the original series before reading any further in this post.

The Escape Artists

We begin by highlighting the rare cases of people who managed to enter and exit the Twilight Zone.

Having Confidence In Your Own Future

Sometimes the key to success is finding the right balance of superstition and making your own fate. Don't dwell on the past, work towards making a brighter tomorrow.

Nick of Time – Watch On Hulu

While honeymooning William Shatner almost gets trapped in a paranoid frenzy by a penny operated predication machine that bosses him around. As they leave, we see another couple who didn't make it out. 

Shatner vs Supersition

Counterbalance in the little town of Ridgeview, Ohio. Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear and superstitution, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread. Two others facing the future with confidence - having escaped one of the darker places of the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Nick of Time

The Trouble With Templeton – Watch On Hulu

Dealing with troubles in his personal and professional life, an aging actor revisits his glory days through his memories, only to be rejected by his former friends. Upon returning to the present he discovers that his recollections had merely put on a play of their own to trick him into not living in the past, giving him renewed strength to take on his current life challenges.

Mr. Booth Templeton, who shared with most human beings the hunger to recapture the past moments, the ones that soften with the years. But in his case, the characters of his past blocked him out and sent him back to his own time, which is where we find him now. Mr. Booth Templeton, who had a round-trip ticket - into The Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, The Trouble With Templeton

No Time Like The Past – Watch On Hulu

Disgusted with the present day, a scientist uses a time machine and tries to alter key historical events (such as killing Hitler) but after multiple failures he finds that time can not be altered. Learning his lesson, he resolves to work towards positively impacting the future instead of dwelling on the mistakes of the past.

Incident on a July afternoon, 1881. A man named Driscoll who came and went and, in the process, learned a simple lesson, perhaps best said by a poet named Lathbury, who wrote, ‘Children of yesterday, heirs of tomorrow, what are you weaving? Labor and sorrow? Look to your looms again, faster and faster fly the great shuttles prepared by the master. Life’s in the loom, room for it. Room.’ Tonight’s tale of clocks and calendars in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, No Time Like The Past

A Penny For Your ThoughtsWatch On Hulu

When a coin lands on its side, Dick York  temporarily gains the ability to read minds and though there are some misunderstandings, tries to use the new power responsibly. This leads to finding a previously unknown confidence in himself that continues after things return to normal.

One time in a million, a coin will land on its edge, but all it takes to knock it over is a vagrant breeze, a vibration, or a slight blow. Hector B. Poole, a human coin, on edge for a brief time - in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, A Penny For Your Thoughts

Encounters with the After Life

Though we've learned a lot about the universe in the 50 years since the Twilight Zone originally aired we still aren't any closer to understanding death and the afterlife, nor have we gained new mechanisms for coping with loss. In these episodes we're shown that life is worth living even when things look bleak or near the end, but that it also does eventually come time to say goodbye.

A Passage for Trumpet – Watch On Hulu

Jack Klugman plays a down and out drunkard of a trumpet player who tries to give up on life. While stuck in limbo he has a chance to talk things through with a peculiar trumpeter named Gabe who convinces him to give living another chance.

Joey Crown, who makes music, and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone
— Rod Serling, A Passage for Trumpet

Changing of the GuardWatch On Hulu

A professor forced into retirement is on the verge of suicide but decides to not kill himself after a supernatural encounter with former students who were inspired by his teachings.

Professor Ellis Fowler, teacher, who discovered rather belatedly something of his own value. A very small scholastic lesson, from the campus of the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Changing of the Guard

Long Distance Call – Watch On Hulu

A young boy tries to drown himself in an attempt to be reunited with his beloved dead grandmother and is allowed to live after his fathers pleads with her spirit.

Playing telephone with the dead is standard fare in the Twilight Zone.

A toy telephone, an act of faith, a set of improbable circumstances, all combine to probe a mystery, to fathom a depth, to send a facet of light into a dark after-region, to be believed or disbelieved, depending on your frame of reference. A fact or a fantasy, a substance or a shadow - but all of it very much a part of The Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Long Distance Call

Nothing in the Dark – Watch On Hulu

The infamous Death shows up for an elderly woman as Robert Redford and shows her that the unknown isn’t always to be feared.

There was an old woman who lived in a room. And, like all of us, was frightened of the dark. But who discovered in a minute last fragment of her life that there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on. Object lesson for the more frightened amongst us, in or out, of the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Nothing in the Dark

Looks Can Be Deceiving

When things around you don't make sense, that doesn't always mean you're crazy. On the other hand, that may in fact be a clear sign that you've completely lost it.

Where Is Everybody? – Watch On Hulu

Also notable as the first episode of the Twilight Zone, a mysterious stranger in an empty town turns out to be a potential astronaut slowly losing his mind during an experiment to test the limits of isolation in space travel.

Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting... in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Where Is Everybody?

I Sing The Body Electric – Watch On Hulu

Written by Ray Bradbury (and later the name of a short story of his by the same name), an android housemaid is brought into a home to help care of three children after the death of their mother. Despite not being human she is eventually loved as one of the family and everyone lives happily ever after.

A fable? Most assuredly. But who’s to say at some distant moment there might be an assembly line producing a gentle product in the form of a grandmother whose stock in trade is love. Fable, sure, but who’s to say?
— Rod Serling, I Sing The Body Electric

Twenty Two – Watch On Hulu

A stressed out Barbara Nichols is in the hospital suffering from a mental breakdown caused by recurring nightmare. Despite everyone thinking she's insane the dream ultimately contains clues that later save her life.

Those nightmares are trying to tell you something.

This is Miss Liz Powell. She’s a professional dancer and she’s in the hospital as a result of overwork and nervous fatigue. And at this moment we have just finished walking with her in a nightmare. In a moment she’ll wake up and we’ll remain at her side. The problem here is that both Miss Powell and you will reach a point where it might be difficult to decide which is reality and which is nightmare, a problem uncommon perhaps but rather peculiar to the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Twenty Two

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

While not everyone makes it out of the Twilight Zone, there are some noteworthy cases for what to do when escape is not an option.

Two Enter, One Leaves

A Game of PoolWatch On Hulu

Wanting to be known the greatest pool shark of all time, Jack Klugman has a chance encounter with a previous, now deceased, legend. Upon winning the game he gets the title but finds himself stuck with defending his name in the after life for all time.

Mr. Jesse Cardiff, who became a legend by beating one, but who has found out after his funeral that being the best of anything carries with it a special obligation to keep on proving it. Mr. Fats Brown, on the other hand, having relinquished the champion’s mantle, has gone fishing. These are the ground rules in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, A Game of Pool

The Jeopardy Room – Watch On Hulu

Attempting to defect to a new life, a former KGB agent must outwit a sadistic enemy assassin in a game of cat and mouse where he is all but guaranteed to lose.

The cast of characters- a cat and a mouse, this is the latter. The intended victim who may or may not know that he is to die, be it by butchery or ballet. His name is Major Ivan Kuchenko. He has, if events go according to certain plans, perhaps three or four more hours of living. But an ignorance shared by both himself and his executioner, is that both of them have taken the first step into the twilight zone.
— Rod Serling, The Jeopardy Room

Starting Over In the Unknown

Third From The Sun – Watch On Hulu 

With nuclear war on the horizon a scientist realizes the only chance of survival for his family is to travel to an unknown planet in a stolen experimental rocket ship. Now on their way to another world, like all refugees of war, it is unclear if they are coming or going from the Twilight Zone.

Behind a tiny ship heading into space is a doomed planet on the verge of suicide. Ahead lies a place called Earth, the third planet from the sun. And for William Sturka and the men and women with him, it’s the eve of the beginning - in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Third From The Sun

TwoWatch On Hulu

Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson find out the hard way that when you're the last two people on Earth after an apocalyptic war, you were probably made for each other, even if you previously fought for opposing armies.

Romance at the end of the world.

The time, perhaps 100 years from now or sooner; or perhaps it’s already happened 2 million years ago. The place, the signposts are in English so that we may read them more easily, but the place is the Twilight Zone
— Rod Serling, Two

Probe 7, Over and OutWatch On Hulu

The last survivors of mankind stranded on an alien world might just be the next Adam and Eve.

Do you know these people? Names familiar, are they? They lived a long time ago. Perhaps they’re part fable, perhaps they’re part fantasy. And perhaps the place they’re walking to now is not really called ‘Eden.’ We offer it only as a presumption. This has been the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Probe 7, Over and Out

Kick the Can – Watch On Hulu

An old man in a retirement community believes acting young will make him young. Though everyone thinks he's crazy, he succeeds when playing the game ‘kick the can’ and escapes into the Twilight Zone where he becomes a child again.

Sunnyvale Rest, a dying place for ancient people, who have forgotten the fragile magic of youth. A dying place for those who have forgotten that childhood, maturity, and old age are curiously intertwined and not separate. A dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking - to visit - The Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Kick the Can

“When the fall's all that's left, it matters a great deal”

In some cases the best you can hope for is a last chance to go out in style.

The Obsolete Man – Watch On Hulu

A librarian in a totalitarian society is sentenced to death by the state for having an obsolete profession. Taking advantage of a loophole in the system allowing him to choose the method of his execution Burgess Meredith gets the last word by revealing the true nature of the Chancellor (and those like him) on television.

You’re a librarian, Mr. Wordsworth! You’re a dealer in books and two cent fines and pamphlets and closed stacks and the musty insides of a language factory that spews out meaningless words on an assembly line. Words, Mr. Wordsworth, that have no substance and no dimension, like air, like the wind, like a vacuum that you make-believe has an existence by scribbling index numbers on little cards.
— The Chancellor

One for the Angels – Watch On Hulu

Attempting to outsmart Death, a kind hearted salesman accidentally places the life of a child in danger. Doing the right thing, he earns his place “Up there” in the After Life.

Lewis J. Bookman, age sixtyish. Occupation: pitchman. Formerly a fixture of the summer, formerly a rather minor component to a hot July. But, throughout his life, a man beloved by the children, and therefore, a most important man. Couldn’t happen, you say? Probably not in most places - but it did happen in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, One for the Angels

So there you have it friends – study these episodes carefully and you too may be one of the few to escape, or at least survive in, the Twilight Zone!

[Update: For further reading, check out this recently dug up Mike Wallace interview with Rod Serling from 1959]