Terminator I and II

Movie made: 1984 and 1991 | Set in: 1984, 1991, and circa 2030s

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Computer war on humanity very low 2030+
Time travel extremely low 2030+
Sophisticated combat robots very low? 2030+
Nanotechnological intelligences very low 2060+

Approach to the future

Scenario as action vehicle


Futurism: 3

Entertainment: 10

Plausibility: 2

Interesting depictions

The advanced terminator, the T1000, is called a “mimetic polyalloy,” and seems to be a kind of nanotechnology. It is composed of a self-organizing material with sophisticated embedded artificial intelligence. Its fragments have a homing capability, allowing it to reassemble. It can be disrupted but not destroyed, except by the wholesale disruption caused by melting.

Given that nanotechnology is mostly still theoretical, such a self-organizing device presents immense challenges.

Among these is how to embed intelligence in a liquid, though computing based on DNA or quantum mechanics might suggest a way. Computations have successfully been carried out with vats of DNA.

The depiction of a nuclear attack on a city is well done.

Though the chance of war among the great powers has dropped in the last decade, the chance of a city attack has grown. There are more non-traditional terrorists, whose sole aim is destruction, and nuclear proliferation has continued. North Korea might use nuclear weapons in a last spasm of irrational destruction, and India and Pakistan could easily stumble into mutual annihilation.

Other technologies/topics depicted

Artificial intelligence:
Skynet, a computer system, decides to destroy humanity. It is never clear how sentient any of the terminators are. A sophisticated enough model of the world will allow a simulation of self-awareness and intent. The terminators have an extremely complex model of the world and human actions and psychology, but many of the elements of that model could be programmed. A robot could already be designed to wait by the road and fire only at sport utility vehicles; it would not have to know what they were or feel anything about them.

The Model 101 ends up hinting at emotion. But the T1000 is entertaining partly because it is calmly, relentlessly imperturbable, whatever happens around it.

People have also speculated that computer intelligence could grow astronomically, and beyond human understanding, once computers start designing computers. The terminators are the offspring of design by artificial intelligence.

See: A note on artificial intelligence.

The movies do provide themselves an out: the advanced computers that start the war are based on a chip from the Model 101 terminator that comes back from the future. So the future technology is based on. . . future technology.

Time travel:
One-way time travel has been achieved: both sides in the conflict can send people and objects back from the past, to precise moments. These movies show time as malleable: the future can affect the past—the computer war is triggered by computers based on technology from the future—but the known future can also be modified.

Wholly new physics would have to be discovered to allow this. The circumstantial evidence—that no time travelers have ever been recorded—suggests time travel may never be possible.

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The futures depicted in the movies