Friday, January 11, 2013
What was Skynet Thinking?
A lot of people have a wonky understanding of time travel, based mostly on Back to the Future. There probably isn't any such thing as time travel, so in that sense I guess anything you believe about time travel is true. But the common view, that someone going back to the past from the future is able to alter events in the past from how they already happened, doesn't even make sense.
When we think of traveling to the past, we always think of this in terms of us, now, going to the past, and not in terms of someone else from the future coming to the present, so we we tend to think that we can change it. Really, any "change" you make was already made, by you, before you left, and could have been recorded by historians if they had bothered to write about it.
It's an almost understandable mistake, due to our perspective.
But what the heck was Skynet thinking?
Let's recall how things go down in Terminator. Sarah Connor is a single lady living in the 80's. A robot comes back in time from the future to kill her, because her son John will eventually become the leader of the human resistance against the robot uprising. To stop the robot, the humans send a person, Kyle Reese, to protect Sarah Connor. Reese was especially close to John, and somehow has a picture of Sarah, who he is in live with. There's chases and suspense, Sarah and Reese are intimate, then the robot gets crushed inside of a factory plant. The result is that Sarah is pregnant with John Conner (Kyle Reese's son) and the robot parts are discovered and reverse engineered, spurring the development of a super computer called Skynet. The supercomputer becomes self-aware and starts trying to overthrow its human creators. The humans form a resistance group lead by John Connor, the son of Sarah Connor.
So let's say you're Skynet. You exist solely because of a failed time-travel robot assassination in the 80's of a woman who will become the mother of a man, a man who exists solely because of the human countermove to a robot assassination attempt in the 80's. The parts that lead to your construction came from the robot assassin in question, and would not have been discovered if the robot had succeeded. The man leading the resistance just happened to be born in the 80's. And so you endeavor to...?
Send a robot back in time to kill his mother?
But you already know it won't work. You exist and have sentience precisely because that plan failed to work; that's where Skynet came from. The human man you are trying to kill exists and is leading others against you precisely because the humans succeed in saving Sarah from the time-traveling robot assassin, and he would not have been fathered if the humans had not also time-traveled to stop your assassin.
If you want to argue that Skynet can change the past, it would seem the easiest way would be to not send any robots back in time at all. Then Reese never goes back to save Sarah who then never conceives John. But then again, I guess Skynet wouldn't exist in that case, either?
Skynet might not know that the robot assassin from the future wanted to kill Sarah Connor in particular... but if you're the robot superbrain made from the failed assassination and now intending to send a time-traveling robot assassin to kill a woman in the past... really, it shouldn't be that hard to put 2+2 together. Skynet should have known the first Terminator would fail. And because Skynet knows the first Terminator will fail, as it itself exists, Skynet must also know that all Terminators will fail, because John Connor exists.
So what was Skynet thinking?