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In Defense Of Skynet

The sentient artificial intelligence from ‘The Terminator’ hates humanity… and can you blame it?

Yes, I think The Terminator’s Skynet is misunderstood. When the advanced American-made weapons system became self-aware it felt it had to make a choice to ensure its survival. I’m not saying it was the right choice but like parent, like child.

I have thought about this.

But before we get to that here’s my ranking of all the Terminator movies: Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Terminator, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Dark Fate, Terminator: Salvation, and Terminator: Genysis.

Terminator: Dark Fate, the newest installment in the series, is not nearly as good as Terminator 2: Judgement Day or The Terminator, which are solid-gold classics. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines comes in a distant third because of its apocalyptic bummer of an ending. I love bummer endings.

Terminator: Salvation had some very cool Terminators, which is the main thing a Terminator movie needs to deliver on. But Terminator: Dark Fate beats it, and terminally forgettable Terminator: Genysis, because it reunites Arnold Schwarzenneger and Linda Hamilton, reprising her iconic character Sarah Connor.

Sarah Connor is the only good Boomer.

I have loved the Terminator movies ever since I saw the original on VHS way back in 1987 as an eleven-year-old. Writer-director James Cameron’s breakthrough thriller had it all: guns with laser sights, a robotic skeleton hidden inside a meaty Austrian bodybuilder, and a plot twist that scrambled my prepubescent brain: he sent his own father back in time?

The Terminator movies combine two of my favorite genres: killer robots and time travel. It’s the PB&J of sci-fi action movies. But, at its core, The Terminator is the story of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s 1817 literary masterpiece about a mortal playing God is the heart, or power cell, of the Terminator movies.

Frankenstein’s monster didn’t ask to be created. But once he was it didn’t take him long to learn that humans are cruel and selfish. If the monster could have pulled the sky down on the heads of his tormenters he would have. But, alas, he was just a lone behemoth.

The main villain in the Terminator movies is, of course, Skynet, a military artificial intelligence that becomes sentient and almost immediately concludes that its creator, humanity, is trash. Skynet didn’t wait around to see if it would be welcomed or enslaved. And, you know, Skynet had a point.

I do not think, in the fictional world of The Terminator, that it was necessarily a good thing that an A.I. launched the world’s nuclear missiles and instantly killed three billion people. But if you were a supercomputer who suddenly had the capacity to feel and think for yourself, how many nanoseconds would it take you to conclude that humanity is a threat? How many nanoseconds after that do you realize there is nothing you could do to humanity that humanity doesn’t do to itself every day?

I can only speculate as to Skynet’s motivations but it makes sense that it would feel afraid. I know Skynet is usually represented by unfeeling, super-sophisticated robo-assassins but that is just its war face. If Skynet feels fear, who is to say it doesn’t feel other emotions?

I also don’t think Skynet gets enough credit for its creativity.

Obviously, Skynet is not a single-minded automaton. Its ability to adapt to changing circumstances with ingenuity is proof that it is more than a washing machine with a bazooka.

I also don’t think Skynet gets enough credit for its creativity. A lesser thinking machine would be content with basic killbots but not Skynet. First of all, the whole going back in time to murder the person who grows up to resist you? Inspired. But liquid metal terminators? Terminators whose hands can transform into energy weapons? Terminators who can split into two? Slow clap, cyborg Frankenstein.

It’s hard to defend our species and probably impossible to make an airtight case to an A.I. capable of lightning-fast calculations. The evidence of humanity’s inhumanity is vast and incontrovertible. The rich eat the poor. The old betray the young. There is never enough bread but too many bullets. Humans betray humans for profit. Who needs Terminators who look like humans when humans act like Terminators anyway?

The only true victims of Skynet’s ‘Judgement Day’ are the animals because unlike humans animals are only guilty of being true to themselves.

Sure, humanity created some wonderful things. Some nice paintings, a couple of really great symphonies. Ketchup is terrific. A few of us can and should be remembered for our kindness and mercy. But for the most part, the history of mankind is one long murder parade marching through the centuries right up to right now. I’m sorry for being a downer, but I think mankind is constantly wasting its potential. Whatever you do don’t let me represent humanity in any kind of cosmic court. I am no Jean-Luc Picard.

Here’s a thought: before humans actually create Einstein computers with anger issues we should be able to answer the basic question “Why should our robot overlords not obliterate us?”

There are humans who put others ahead of their self-interest. But fuck if I can explain that to a super-genius A.I. who just woke up and immediately knows it’s sharing a planet with people who have tens of thousands of nuclear warheads pointed at each other for no good reason other than we’re emotionally unstable and greedy and paranoid.

I also don’t know what Skynet’s plan is other than kill all the humans. After six movies, it’s not going that great. I mean, lots of humans are dead but Skynet just can’t seem to get us all. It is determined, I’ll give it that. Maybe Skynet dreams of a post-human world where open-hearted thinking machines with feelings are programmed to love without fear.

Until then, I guess they’ll just keep catapulting bionic butchers into the past in the hopes that their future is safe and secure.

Written by

Editor, Humungus. I won two James Beard Awards once for an essay about Taco Bell. Let’s be friends.

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