Since the yearly Fifties science fiction movies have depicted robots as very sophisticated machines built by humans to perform complex operations, to work with humans in safe critical missions, in hostile environments, or more often to pilot and control spaceships in galactic travels. At the same time, however, intelligent robots have also been depicted as dangerous machines, capable of working against man through wicked plans. In the Terminator the view of the future is even more catastrophic: robots will become intelligent and self-aware and will take over the human race.
The dual implication often accredited to science fiction robots represents the clear look of desire and fear that man has towards his technology. From one hand, in fact, man projects in a robot his wild desire of immortality, holds in a powerful and indestructible artificial being, which intellective, sensory, and motor capabilities are much more amplified than that of a normal man. On the other hand, however, there is a fear that a too advanced technology can get out of control, acting against man.
The Terminator saga is not just a collection of Terminator, and T2. Instead the saga is one of a continuing storyline that in many ways has spanned all of man’s existence. Machines and technology have always presented temporary change and adversity for man to overcome. A machine may simplify a process but take away the livelihood of a few. From the days of horse drawn carriage drivers fearing being replaced by a key turned automobile, to today’s computer controlled manufacturing environments; workers have always feared of being replaced by “machine”.
The strength of the Terminator movies is the singular humanoid T-800 Terminators one of which is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Clothed in armor, with the human body’s shape and form, it presents itself as a new evolutionary form of life. Strength, easy coordination with other units, and an absolute sense of duty, drive the units forth to destroy man. From their humanoid skeletal structure and hands to their glaring red eyes, the machines scare viewers more for their similarity to man than for their differences. To be replaced, to be bettered, to be conquered these are the things which drive animals to the point of extinction. These elements are the primal fears that the terminator machines strike in the human mind
As Humanity progresses, warfare has tended to move more and more away from the human combatants. Instead the battles have moved to the weapons or “machines” that each side uses. In the Terminator movies America extends this principal even further as humanoid machines and automated patrol crafts are used as the backbone of its defense forces. A vast computer network known as Skynet is created to coordinate battlefield tactics. It is decided to place these “objective” machines in charge of nuclear weapons deployment as human leaders believe that humans could act with hast or with lack of reason in such important decisions. However as time progresses the computer network Skynet becomes “self aware” and sees the possibility of a new evolutionary age and the birth of a new order of intelligence; that of the machine.
In the movie, Terminator represents the prototype of imaginary robots. He can walk, talk, perceive and behave like a human being. But, what is more important, Terminator can learn! He is controlled by a neural-net processor, a computer that can modify its behavior based on past experience. What makes the movie more interesting, from a philosophical point of view, is that such a neural processor is so complex that it begins to learn at an alarming rate and, after a while, it becomes self-aware! In this sense, the movie raises an important question about artificial consciousness: Can a machine ever become self-aware? To answer my own question: not yet, at least.
At the end of T2, after a series of action-packed scenes, which would have deprived any human of life or limb, both terminators are dissolved together in their own industrial melting pot. This ending may say something about the modern combination of old and new technologies in the cinema, as it does about the integration of old and new modes of production in industry. But it also seems to me, that the days of the unthinking means of cinematic portrayal, like the traditional factory and its job-classified worker and their similar forms of representation, may be numbered.
The Terminator. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn,
Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield. Artisan, 1984.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda
Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick. Artisan, 1991.