Surviving SkyNet: Terminator Fans Count Down to Infamous Day

By Thomas Fehn

April 21, 2011. A day which will live in infamy.

Two days after being activated, Skynet (the new military “defense” computer network) became self-aware and immediately began its worldwide attack on humanity. Yes, the robots have now taken over, and newer and more advanced models (ones which, coincidentally, look and speak like Arnold Schwarzenegger) will terrorize humanity. At least until the “resistance” can send people back in time and prevent the tragic end to our modern society (by the expediency of interbreeding with women who sport 1980s hairstyles.)

The previous paragraph is, of course, completely fictional. “Skynet” is a concept from the Terminator science-fiction franchise. Originally, Skynet was supposed to do its evil thing in 1997, but as the storyline progressed through multiple movies and a television show, the date was pushed forward (in an “alternate timeline,” a favorite dodge of the sci-fi literary genre), right up to last month. Anyone requiring proof that this calamity is, indeed, not actually happening — consider that if Skynet were now on the attack, it most certainly wouldn’t be allow this article to be written online today, now would it?

Robots are not, at this point in time, hunting down every last human on the planet. Craig’s late-night sidekick is (full disclosure) actually a skeleton robot himself — but he’s really not at all threatening to behold.

However, in a remarkable coincidence, on April 21 the Obama administration announced the United States will be sending drone aircraft armed with missiles to patrol the skies of Libya. This is in addition to the drone aircraft, the U.S. have in other countries (cough, cough… Pakistan… cough), even if the CIA doesn’t “officially” admit they exist.

In other words, robot warfare is indeed taking place in some sort today. But it hasn’t become self-aware, and it isn’t attacking all of humanity. The robots are directed by “pilots” from remote locations (Nevada, for instance), and the robot planes are only attacking targets the United States as a whole is currently attacking.

The topic is a moral development that hasn’t really be adequately discussed. If warfare becomes a remote-controlled operation for America, what does that mean exactly for our future involvement in warfare? Can robot tanks and even robot infantry be all that far behind?

According to the Department of Defense’s website, the military budget for 2010 was $660 billion. How much of it is being funneled into development into robotic warfare is currently unknown, especially considering how successful the drone aircraft have been. “Successful” is a relative concept, of course. No remote control operators have been injured, killed, or captured since the U.S. began flying Predators over hostile territory. Many on the ground have been killed or injured by Predator missile attacks, but these are American  considered enemies (and the resulting civilian “collateral damage.”)

This is going to seriously unbalance the concept of warfare itself. If one side can launch lethal attacks with no risk whatsoever to its military personnel, and the other side does not have this technology or finances to support it, then it’s not all that fantastical to see a few years into the future robots being sent into conflicts. And since that decision does not impact many human lives, it may be easier to send the droids off to war instead of the boys.

Yet the damage they would commit on the world’s landscapes is the real concern.

Again, this is not science fiction. It’s a reality that already exists in the skies over at least two countries right now (and possibly more). Robots are killing humans. These robots are not acting on their own, they are fully controlled by human operators — but the next generation of drone aircraft will not need a human to operate them (again, this is fact, not supposition). Robot artillery, robot tanks, and robot infantry cannot be all that far behind. War as the ultimate video game, in other words.

So, while it’s fun to watch Arnold say things like “Hasta la vista, Baby” through clenched teeth on a movie screen, the fictional war between humans and robots has taken on a new dimension these days. Because while Skynet is not real (and certainly didn’t start attacking humanity in April), robot warfare is becoming more and more real as time goes by.

Which should force everyone pause to think as to whether you’ve ever seen a Terminator movie or not.

Congrats. You’ve made it.