Terminator Salvation came to theaters on May 21st.  It sparked an idea in my head about technology in our society and if it’s really possible get to the point of what the Terminator franchise projects for our future.

When I presented the idea to a co-worker, he dissed it immediately. When a scientist or engineer starts to immediately diss the possibility of an idea, it’s a good clue that it might be a good idea for us to wrap our imaginations around. Hence, the birth of this article.

This was going to be a short piece… but unfortunately, like the technology in Terminator, the more I looked into the subject matter, the more the article grew on me. It got bigger than the original idea. It took me over and I found myself inexorably abducted into having to write it.

It became just a wee bit more than it’s original design.  Huh?  Where have we heard that before?

Technology In Science Fiction

When we watch our favorite Sci-Fi or fantasy movies, we love the idea of what could be compared to what is.  Despite the science community who nit-picks the details of science fiction in movies, we’re starting to see more and more real technology or science premises coming out of our beloved movies.  Odd isn’t it?

It’s not that odd.  Writers are sparked by imagination and are not limited by budgets, funding sources or the hassle of having to actually discover the math that underlies the technologies or premises they pitch.

Generally speaking, the first sci-fi film that predicted something “impossible” was from the French visionary Georges Melies and his milestone 1902 silent sci-fi film, A Trip To The Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune). The general consensus was that it was silly. Well, as we know, it wasn’t, but he was daring enough to envision it and create it.

A popular theme we continue to see is humanity fighting against the odds and fighting against out of control computer programs.  We love seeing our heroes prevailing over these obstacles to survive.  It also helps that we have super cool stars and awesome music and futuristic ideas that are easily digestible to help us devour the magic of these movies.

And yet science fiction or the imagination of science fiction writers and movie makers seem to pre-echo our real technological achievements or nightmares. But really, give me a break. Perfectly animated humanoid robots standing up against humanity?

Hardware And Software Conjoined To Make Trouble

There are two components to this nightmare: Machines and the software that operates them.  Software isn’t that hard to construct.  It’s a collection of logic that when run, appears autonomous. Or as I see it, can be instilled pre-learned behavior.

Walk. See Wall, turn. If wall on right, turn left. Else, turn right.

That’s a silly and rudimentary example of software code for a walking robot. I could spend hours writing out all the different options and opportunities just for walking. Or better yet, I could just create logic that would ask the robot to write its own software. It isn’t hard. It’s just a bookkeeping nightmare to create and sort out conflicting code.

In Fritz Lang’s 1930’s science fiction film Metropolis we see one of the earliest imaginations of robots.  We’ve seen the autonomous and independent Robby the Robot in one of my all time faves, Forbidden Planet.  There was the incredible tale of robot self awareness and growth in I, Robot.  On May 21st we saw the ultimate nightmare in Terminator Salvation, where they take 1983’s War Games just a step further with Skynet making it’s tools – machines in the form of different types of robots to kick our own butts.

But really, it’s pretty fantastic.  Right?

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