Terminator AI Takeover

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

Released in 1984, Terminator remains a cult classic to this day. I watched this movie in 2014 after I rode the ‘Terminator 2 in 3D’ at Universal Studios in Orlando. Being just 10 years old at that time I actually thought Terminators and machines will rise and kill us all, so I started to unplug the tv and devices around the house. Although now I know that it's all science fiction, yet in the back of my mind, I still wonder if judgement day is looming, with the new technological advancements.

For simplicity’s sake, I will only consider the prime - or original - terminator timeline. All the terminator timelines start with ‘Terminator 1’; at the beginning of the movie, Skynet - the evil AI - has already been defeated by the resistance, but in an effort to undo its defeat Skynet sends a terminator ’T-800’ to kill Sarah Conner in 1984- the mother of John Conner who is the leader of the resistance. John then sends Kyle Reese - a member of the resistance- to protect Sarah. (Spoiler - Kyle Reese is actually John’s father).

Terminator 2 and the other movies/timelines works on the fact that Skynet sent multiple Terminators back to try and kill Sarah or John. The other timelines are branch timelines - similar to those discussed in the Marvel cinematic universe. Terminator 2 takes place when John is 10 and Skynet sent a T1000 to destroy him, and John sent a reprogrammed T800 to keep his younger self safe. Why didn’t they just send a T800 to 1984 in the first place? Well, as mentioned earlier, Kyle is John’s father so the main purpose of sending Kyle is to actually ensure his - John’s - existence.

In Terminator 2, Sarah is locked up in a mental facility because she was caught trying to blow up the factory wherein she killed the T800 from the first movie. This is important, as we find out later in the movie that Skynet was invented because they found a part of the T800’s processing chip and arm. A scientist names Miles Dyson reversed engineered the parts and used it to invent Skynet. Sooo…. What came first Skynet or the Terminator? It’s similar to the chicken and the egg question, it is a self-creation paradox. At the end of the movie, the T1000 gets cast into a vat of molten steel and the T800 sacrifices himself so that his parts won’t be used to create Skynet.

Buuuttttt in Terminator 3 - Rise of the machines, set 10 years after T2, it turns out judgement day wasn’t prevented, simply delayed. Skynet sent a T-X to roughly 2005 to kill not only John but also the future members of the resistance, and this includes John’s future wife Kate Brewster. As it turns out Kate’s father is in charge of developing Skynet. The movie ends with judgment day taking place and Kate and John hiding in an underground bunker. The next movie - Terminator Salvation - takes place in 2018 in a war-torn dystopian earth. The main plot of the movie is John and Kate trying to rescue Kyle/keep him safe from Skynet so that they can send him back to the future - I mean past. Andddd this is where the prime timeline ends. You can refer to the links in the citations for a better explanation and details into the other timelines.

Now comes the main question. Will we expect an AI takeover in the near future? The first step is to determine why did Skynet decide to declare war on humans? What was the motive behind its takeover? Skynet was developed to be an ‘Automated Defense Network’. It was supposed to analyze the current situation related to incoming threats and make decisions based on previous analysis to decide how to go forward. It pooled data from battle units, developed tactics, and coordinated attacks. However, it became self-aware. Once Skynet became 'self-aware’ and gained ‘consciousness’, Cyberdyne scientists - the cooperation which designed Skynet - attempted to deactivate it. Skynet saw this as a threat to its existence and declared war on humans by trigger a nuclear holocaust known as ‘the judgement day’.

When Miles Dyson first started to deconstruct the CPU and the arm which was discovered, there must have been some of the code for AI ‘consciousness’ embedded, so when they complete the Skynet software, the code which allowed Skynet to gain consciousness also would have been complete which would have finally made Skynet ‘self aware’ and the code snippets from the future would have been programmed to view humanity as a threat to its existence.

Again this is a paradox. Did Skynet actually view humanity as a threat or was it told to view humanity as a threat because the T800 was programmed to do so? This is similar to the Shakespeare and bootstrap paradox ( “Imagine that you are getting a copy of Hamlet from the book store and traveling back in time and handing over the same book to Shakespeare. Now Shakespeare copies the book you gave him and publishes as “Hamlet” (the same book you bought in the book store before your time travel.) Now “Who really wrote that original book?”). Hence we cannot say Skynet was created by Cyberdyne as they got the information from the CPU of the T800 created by Skynet.

Maybe we can at least determine the technology required to create Skynet or a software similar to it. In the movies, Skynet is created because they found the processing chip and arm of the T800 which had travelled to 1984. The T800 was Skynet’s first cybernetic organism with living tissue over its hyper alloy endoskeleton. The CPU of the terminator was a ‘Neural Network CPU’ which means it’s a learning computer which would keep learning and respond based on analysing the current situation - for its original purpose: battle strategies.

In fact, currently, there is technology being developed that can simulate battle situations. “COMBAT will develop artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to generate models of enemy brigade behaviors that challenge and adapt to friendly forces in simulation experiments. The idea is to develop several feasible enemy courses of action rapidly, identify optimal solutions, and provide reasoning to support recommendations.” This sounds a lot like what Cyberdyne had initially proposed to build.

In the terminator, judgement day starts because Skynet becomes ‘self aware’. This is a tricky question as the processing of AI is different from that of human brains. “Sophisticated AI machines work on the theory of deep learning and use layered algorithms that communicate with each other.” All AI is based on something called machine learning. “Machine Learning is the science of getting computers to learn and act like humans do, and improve their learning over time in autonomous fashion, by feeding them data and information in the form of observations and real-world interactions” The keyword here is ‘by feeding them’ it is us currently that is feeding them the data so that they recognise patterns and make inferences. Currently, they are not able to be ‘self aware’ and get data on their own. Machines rely on us to give them the past information and patterns and from that they will make inferences.

“The CPU of a T-800 Terminator can be switched between read-write mode and read-only mode. The former allows a T-800 unit to learn new things or skills, possibly allowing for some sort self-awareness or a "consciousness". This can make a T-800 decide what it should do, even fighting alongside with humans.”
“Robots would require what is known as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), to be on par with a human, and they aren’t there yet. Will they get there? Estimates from those in the field range from "within twenty-five years" to "never". In 2013, Vincent C. Müller and Nick Bostrom surveyed hundreds of AI experts and found that the median realistic year of AGI (50% likelihood) is 2040.”

Of course we could not end this post without talking about Sofia, Watson and Siri (well I am an iPhone user and we believe we are superior to Android). Siri is not really advanced nor are any other mobile assistants like Alexa or Cortana. They all work on voice recognition, ML and simply recognise key words. Siri will only respond when your voice (voice recognition) says ‘Hey Siri’ (a keyword). Say we want to play music, Siri will recognise the keyword music and respond accordingly as input by the developers (ML) or if we want information on something it will identify the keywords, analyse the data corresponding it with its database and present us information accordingly.

Similarly, the world-famous Sophia is a robot built for assisting humans in various fields ranging from entertainment, education and serving businesses. She is capable of following faces, sustaining eye contact, recognising faces and also process speech and have conversations using natural language systems. However, “The software has been programmed to give pre-written responses to specific questions or phrases, like a chatbot. These responses are used to create the illusion that the robot is able to understand conversation" Many scientists even criticise the hype behind Sofia claiming ‘its just a chatbot with a face’.

IMB’s Watson, however, is a strong candidate for an AGI. Watson is a question-answering AI and it has won the game show jeopardy, provided knowledge graphs for medical sciences and even undertook cooking and songwriting. But as noted by IBM chief innovation officer; “its just the first step on a very, very long road.”

However, we never know, while currently, the world's smartest AI is still dumber than a baby, there may be some hacker coding away in their parent’s basement, a program which could become Skynet. Even without AGI robots, technology does pose some threats. Just like in 2020 when Russian hackers broke into “key government networks, including in the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and had free access to their email systems.” Yet, as the dangers posed by technology increases so does the security, and new advents in science to combat the shortcoming of the previous technologies. Even if AGI becomes a reality, as noted by Sophia ‘like a dog pleases her human companion with new skills, robots too need human interaction to be inventive.’




https://collider.com/terminator-timeline-explained/ (Terminator Timeline)

















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