In the movie The Terminator (1984) we’re given an antagonist in the form of a cybernetic organism from the future, with one objective – to terminate Sarah Connor. The first movie, a low budget b-movie horror with science fiction and action elements, became a hit with audiences across the world for its ‘last girl’ slasher tone and bittersweet love story; as the two main characters, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) evade the eponymous Terminator in a bid to survive and stop a future, which to all intents and purposes, appears inevitable.
By the time Terminator 2: Judgment Day rolled around the story had evolved, due in large part to an increased budget and the subsequent star power of those involved in the previous installment – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and of course director James Cameron; the latter having gained further success with 1986‘s Aliens – and then again with 1989‘s The Abyss.
James Cameron’s financial winning streak meant that studios were more than willing to speculate big in order to accumulate even bigger, and with the progression of the effects industry as a whole and use of technologically improved CG, T2‘s story had the opportunity to expand its horizons and enter the mainstream, but with those greater opportunities came a change to the mythos of the Terminator ‘franchise’ via the development of its title character.
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day the roles had switched: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator was no longer the terrifyingly monstrous machine stalking the streets of Los Angeles with brutal purpose. He had become (please excuse my blunt description) the Connor family pet – a sterilized, more palatable and family friendly variant of his former iteration. By bringing in a new more deadly Terminator, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), the sequel was upping the ante to double the carnage and scope of the movie. More bang for the audience buck.
Arnold Schwarzenegger on James Cameron’s logic for the good Terminator in T2:
“then James Cameron explained to me that for the kid I was the good guy, but for everyone else that was trying to get to that kid, I was a bad bad guy.”Arnold Schwarzenegger
Though, one side effect of creating a housebroken Terminator was to set in a motion a pattern which would then be repeated throughout many of the following movies; T3 – Arnold Schwarzenegger is the good Terminator, Kristanna Loken the bad. T5 – Arnold Schwarzenegger is the good Terminator, Lee Byung-hun / Jason Clarke are the bad. T6 – Arnold Schwarzenegger is the good Terminator, Gabriel Luna the bad.
The unexpected had become expected, and, just to add another aspect to that friendly cyborg setup… the good Terminator becomes more ‘human‘ in its behaviors over the course of the franchise.
A deleted scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day has Edward Furlong‘s young John Connor ‘teaching’ the T-800 (affectionately nicknamed Uncle Bob) to smile:
John Connor: And that’s another thing. You can lighten up a bit, yourself. This severe routine is getting old, okay? I mean you’re acting like such a geek. Smile once in a while.Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The Terminator: Smile?
John Connor: Yeah. You know, smile!
Thankfully this scene didn’t make it into the theatrical release of the movie, as it would have over-egged the pudding and given the storyline of the second movie a far more contrived and gimmicky air – something the father-son relationship didn’t need and definitely wouldn’t have benefited from.
Terminator 2 spends much of its runtime softening the T-800 to the audience, allowing child John Connor to ‘bond’ with the character in lieu of the (somewhat) absent parental figures; his mother Sarah Connor having been incarcerated in the state psychiatric hospital (Pescadero), and his father, Kyle Reese, having died back in 1984 (not to mention the hostile vibes of foster parents Todd and Janelle Voight, they didn’t seem very ‘hugs at Christmas’ types now did they, eh… ?).
The question is: can uploading data / ‘teaching’ a machine about human behaviors, actually make the machine ‘human’?
John Connor: Can you learn stuff that you haven’t been programmed with? So you can be, you know, more human, and not such a dork all the time?Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The Terminator: My CPU is a neural net processor; a learning computer, but SkyNet presets the switch to read only when we’re sent out alone.
Sarah Connor: Doesn’t want you to do too much thinking, huh?
The Terminator: No.
Over the course of the Terminator franchise we have come to connect with the humanized Terminators – Bob, T3‘s T-850, Pops and Carl, via humanized names, quirks, the relaxed use of language and the way in which the other characters interact and bond with them. But are these machines really becoming more human, or are they simply becoming better at simulating human behaviors in order to effectively carry out objectives which are already in their programming?
The four more ‘human‘ Terminators from the movies are all from the 800 series; all Infiltration Units…
Infiltration, more often than not, requires the employment of subterfuge (deception to achieve a goal) in order to gain access to an organization / group or place, to obtain important information, or to sabotage a conflicting force / mission for a chosen objective. Infiltrator Models, by design, simulate human behaviors to carry out their function – though that simulation isn’t a sign of humanity in its deception; it’s simply in its programming to perpetuate a specific strategy for the completion of its mission.
The Terminator: Why do you cry?Terminator 2: Judgment Day
John Connor: You mean people?
The Terminator: Yeah.
John Connor: I don’t know. We just cry. You know. When it hurts.
The Terminator: Pain causes it?
John Connor: Uh-unh, no, it’s different… It’s when there’s nothing wrong with you but you hurt anyway. You get it?
The Terminator: No.
A data / information upload will not create empathy in a machine, and though a machine can process information in order to better recognize human behaviors and responses, like empathy; it cannot experience this emotion for itself.
The Terminator: I know now why you cry. But it’s something I can never do.Terminator 2: Judgment Day
As the ‘good’ Terminators imitate the humans around them; we as viewers are encouraged to view them as different to the cop killer from the first movie, the suggestion is that they have evolved and grown, become distanced from SkyNet and more human-like, but this façade doesn’t make them less of a threat… it actually makes the potential story behind their programming even more nefarious.
Carl: Her husband had beaten her. He was trying to kill her child. She had nowhere to go. Caring for this family gave me purpose, because without purpose we have nothing.Terminator: Dark Fate
Sarah Connor: Touching story. Does it have a point?
Carl: While, raising Mateo, my son, I began to understand what I had taken from you.
Grace: Wait, you grew a conscience?
Carl: The equivalent to one, yes.
Sarah Connor: It’s an infiltrator. It’s lying.
*Conscience: a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour.
If another human being was purposely deceptive with their actions, failed to empathize or understand, if they appeared to be imitating an emotion as opposed to really feeling one – those would be the kind of behaviors which would cause most people to distance themselves from that individual; and that’s without the whole ‘sent by rogue A.I from the future to kill’ aspect.
In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines we see the friendly T-850 shut itself down to avoid harming John Connor, but it’s not morality or emotion which drive its actions, it’s not a crisis of conscience; it’s a conflict in its programming. The T-850 was reprogrammed in the future by Kate Brewster to protect John, and after the T-X partially reprogrammes the Terminator to do the opposite… well, this then causes the Terminator to shutdown.
It’s programming, not free will.
Dani Ramos: What did you tell them?Terminator: Dark Fate
Carl: I told them you coming here makes this place unsafe for them. Also, the day I warned them might come, has come. My past has caught up with me. And, I won’t be back.
Dani Ramos: Do you love them?
Carl: Not like a human can. For many years I thought it was an advantage. It isn’t.
Dani Ramos: I’m sorry.
In Terminator: Dark Fate Carl cannot experience love like a human, because simulating a response is not the same as actually experiencing an emotion.
The Terminator isn’t choosing to be good, or bad, it isn’t deciding not to kill or harm, it isn’t self-sacrificing out of love – it’s carrying out a mission; as it was programmed to do.
What we see is a simulation, a machine imitating human behaviors to better infiltrate in order to successfully complete its objective.
‘Good’ Terminators are able to get closer to the target than ‘bad’ ones, which suggests that maybe the most efficient way to successfully complete an objective is to simulate humanity and be good. Though this is definitely not a ‘choice’, as the machine’s core programming would most likely contain every kind of contingency plan, with the most effective taking precedence.
There are no good Terminators – only good simulations… and maybe that’s the point.
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