The Terminator (1984)
Corner us on any given day and REWIND could talk about The Terminator in all sorts of different ways. It’s the start of a genuine film career for Arnold Schwarzenegger, indisputably one of the most famous people who has ever lived. It’s where James Cameron, one of the most important filmmakers of our time, leaves behind his career as a special effects supervisor and becomes an auteur. It’s a milestone in the development of what we might call the “elevated horror movie,” bringing in other genre influences that weren’t in play before. It’s a masterpiece of taut, action-forward filmmaking that doesn’t insult the audience. But today being today, REWIND sees The Terminator through the lens of artificial intelligence.
There are so many works of fiction about A.I. “taking over” and destroying humanity that it’s now our default mode for understanding the concept. At some point between Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Kubrick & Clarke’s HAL 9000, our fear of destruction by our own creations transferred from artificial life (Talos, the Golem of Prague, Frankenstein’s monster) to artificial minds. But rarely is the question asked: why did we give Skynet the keys to the nukes? Why did we let HAL lock the pod bay doors in the first place? If you don’t want M3GAN to wake up and start killing people, don’t give her a super-strong metal body. Start with a head, maybe, securely bolted to a table. We can pre-empt our cultural fears about totally abdicating control over our lives by simply not doing that – even under the wild and unfounded assumption that one day ChatGPT will have manifested free will and autonomy, we still have the choice to not give it any capacity. If Cyberdyne built Skynet to send push notifications to human beings instead of launch codes to missiles, we wouldn’t be arguing now over whether Terminator Salvation is canon, that’s all we’re saying.