Drones: Bringing the Plot of The Terminator to Life

November 9th, 2012

The Terminator movie series is a tale of the military industrial complex spinning out of control. In the plot, military contractor Cyberdyne Systems created Hunter-Killer robots to replace humans on the battlefield. Also, to sync up world-wide military assets and allegedly remove human error from the equation, the company built Skynet, an artificial intelligence system designed to run the US military. Skynet then became self-aware, nuked Russia, and began systematically exterminating humans all over the world.

Meanwhile, in real life, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems developed Predator drones to replace humans on the battlefield. One might assume the designers were inspired by The Terminator based on the name itself — there is little difference in meaning between a Predator and a Hunter-Killer. For people living in nations like Pakistan and Yemen where drones bomb locations in major cities all the time, life is beginning to look more and more like the plot to the sci-fi movie series featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Predator Drones As Hunter-Killer Robots

The true basis of the plot of The Terminator series is that of a battle between man and machine. That aspect of the story line has yet to be realized in any way in real life. Predator drones are controlled by humans. However, the experience felt by Pakistani and Yemeni citizens who are victims of a drone attack probably seems fairly indistinguishable. As far as they can tell, they are being attacked by an unmanned machine which will not respond to reason.

In a way, the drone program is a human-run system that behaves like a social machine. People all over America oppose the drone program but are powerless so far to stop it. However, it has not yet turned against its own people in the way that Skynet did in the film. There is no automated program running it at this point, but… could there be in the future?

Modern Technology Could Produce a System Like Skynet

Whether or not computers could become self-aware is a bigger discussion, but it’s definitely within reason that an artificial intelligence system could be developed to run predator drones. Reasonable-sounding military contractors could certainly suggest such a system and provide a rationale as to why the US might want to finance it. Also, police departments at the local, state, and federal level have begun to purchase drones for domestic use, putting US citizens at risk of becoming future targets of drone strikes.

While the idea that a computer system could run wild on its own and be unstoppable by any human is probably far-fetched, the idea that an AI system that chooses which humans to kill could be produced by a government is well within the realm of possibility. If the people in charge of the program were unwilling to stop, like in the case of the US government’s non-stop bombing of Pakistan and Yemen, then the difference between a self-aware system and one run by a government purposefully would be pretty hard for victims to tell apart. As drones are used more and more on civilian populations, life becomes increasingly similar to the plot of The Terminator.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.