Friday, May 22, 2009

Genocide Via Computer

Of all the Terminator films, Rise of the Machines was certainly the most disappointing.

Directed by Jonathon Mostow in place of James Cameron, Terminator 3 came across with all the gloss, polish and adrenaline of a Hollywood action film, and none of the grit and tension of Cameron's masterpieces.

But, interestingly enough, of the three Terminator films, Rise of the Machines may have been the best-situated out of the three in terms of its prescience.

In the film, John Connor (Nick Stahl) is living "off-the-grid", with nothing but the clothes of his back and his motorcycle. He works day jobs to subsist himself, and has no place of residence, credit cards, or cell phone -- nothing that would leave a record he could be traced by.

Even though he and his now-deceased mother, Sarah Connor, have been led to believe they had averted Judgment Day by destroying Skynet, Connor lives in terror of the future, and rightfully so.

The future isn't nearly as secure as he would like to believe.

An encounter with Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) brings John face-to-face with both the T-X -- played by Kristanna Loken, a Terminator sent back to the eve of Judgment Day to kill off Connor's someday lieutenants -- and with the T-800 sent back in time to protect her -- a role again reprised by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As it turns out, the program that eventually leads to the creation of Skynet is still in operation. Brewster's father is the head of this project, and has his own concerns about removing human decision-making from defense planning. Meanwhile, an unstoppable computer virus is overwhelming the civilian internet, and is beginning to infiltrate defense networks.

The virus is Skynet. Whether it's been seeded in the past as seems to be happening in The Sarah Connor Chronicles or is created outside the defense program and merely infiltrates it remains unexplained.

As nuclear weapons cross the globe toward their targets, what is explained is that Skynet had presumably infiltrated millions of computers worldwide.

While one presumes that nothing as hyperbolic as a genocidal computer program plotting the wholesale destruction of humanity is currently occurring, it is a well known fact that many countries -- as well as private organizations and individuals -- have been investing in cyberwarfare capabilities that would allow them to strike at their opponents through their computer systems.

China has made its commitment to cyberwarfar technology a matter of public record. North Korea, India and other countries are also investing in cyberwar technologies at an alarming rate.

One particular cyberwarfare weapon, the zombie virus, uses infected computers to pass itself along to the next victim. It attaches itself to email and fax programs, and transmits itself through the user's own communications.

These programs can have purposes ranging from the theft of information to disruption of emergency services.

In Terminator 3, the virus' purpose was to facilitate the destruction of humankind.

Interestingly, the writers of Terminator 3 could be argued to accept the "inevitability thesis" of Andy Opel and Greg Elmer. But once again, one would have to counter by arguing that preemption is only as valuable as the amount of certainty with which it can be executed, and as the diligence used to ensure that the threat it is aimed at is actually destroyed.

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