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In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines movie, Skynet infected most part of civilian Internet as a powerful unbeatable virus. It also broke US govt. firewall to hack US defense system. All these even before it was activated.

How can a software do such things even before its execution?

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4 Answers 4

The question stems from an in-universe confusion. There are 3 things that exist in Terminator Universe, and 2 of them share a name:

  1. A virus (which had nothing to do with the military) and had no name.

  2. A military system/AI that General Brewster built, called "Skynet" by its creators.

  3. A hostile self-aware AI running on military hardware, which was a result of the #1 virus infecting #2 AI/system.

    That final self-aware AI was called "Skynet" by those who survived the Judgement Day.

The problem is that most people - John Connor included, up till the very end of T3 movie - assumed that the resulting self-aware "Skynet" AI originated mainly due to the military AI (also called "Skynet" by the military).

That assumption was wrong - final Skynet was a result of an original virus software (which was infecting civilian Internet) infecting a military AI hardware. The infection happened as the hardware was activated to try to play McAffee and clean the virus out of the networks.

The conundrum that you expressed in your question ("All these even before it was activated") was precisely due to that confusion: What was "activated later" was an AI/Hardware called "Skynet", but that was independent of Virus-that-evolved-into-Skynet.

Here's the actual timeline (precision up to 2 hours) based on the following quoted dialog in the T3 movie:

 T - X years:  General Brewster develops an autonomous military system
               combining drones and a powerful AI codenamed "Skynet".

 T - 10 days:  An unnamed virus activates (for arbitrary values of "10").
               The virus was/is completely unrelated to Brewster's "Skynet"

 T - 2 hours:  Virus infects some DoD military systems. 

 T - 1 hour:   DoD freaks out and orders General Brewster to turn on
               his Skynet AI to clean military networks from the virus.

 T - 59 mins:  Skynet AI gets infected by the virus.
               Combined infected software achieves self-awareness.
               This combined software will be dubbed "Skynet" afterwards.

 T - 0 mins:   "Bad" Skynet launches Judgement Day.

Robert Brewster: Skynet? The virus has infected Skynet?
John Connor: Skynet IS the virus. It's the reason everything's falling apart!
Terminator: Skynet has become self aware. In one hour it will initiate a massive nuclear attack on its enemy.

John Connor: By the time Skynet became self-aware it had spread into millions of computer servers across the planet. Ordinary computers in office buildings, dorm rooms; everywhere. It was software; in cyberspace. There was no system core; it could not be shutdown.

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Which is interesting because shouldn't it have gotten progressively dumber as the nuclear war wiped out most of the systems it was running on? –  Xantec Nov 26 '12 at 18:30
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@Nick No. She infects isolated machines, none of them connected to the internet (e.g. trucks etc...). Her nanovirus thingies are a tool of Terminatoring, not of creating Skynet –  DVK Nov 26 '12 at 18:48
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@SachinShekhar - you are simply confusing 2 things. The virus - which was in reality what Skynet was - was ALREADY active. The military AI - which was called "Skynet" - was activated to clean the virus. Later on in history, because people didn't realize or care about fine details, they merely called the resulting abomination of an AI infected with the virus "Skynet", the same way people refer to "Linux OS" instead of "GNU/Linux" (GNU operating system running Linux kernel) –  DVK Nov 26 '12 at 19:17
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@SachinShekhar - you (and intelligent human being) can be easily killed by a bunch of absolutely dumb pathogens, from plague to Ebola to flu to fles-eating bacteria. Never mind rats/snakes/sharks/lions. Your last statement is absolutely wrong as far as the virus needing to be an AI –  DVK Nov 26 '12 at 20:04
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@SachinShekhar As for the virus, it doesn't have to be an AI itself. It could just be targeted in a way that corrupted a few key subroutines in the AI. That's the fun of automatic code generation: The tiniest change can cascade all over as it attempts to correct itself and keep going. –  Izkata Nov 27 '12 at 0:40

The implication was that as the timestream fluctuated, in this particular instance of it Skynet was no longer created by the US military.

Instead, it was some emergent phenomenon of the Internet. It was born there uncreated, and only then did it infiltrate SIPRnet and the weapons prototypes. This confuses Connor because he'd been taught his whole life that it was a creation of weapons scientists as indeed it had been in the previous instance of the timestream. It is possible that this fluctuation wasn't persistent, and that one more iteration of the loop would cause it to swing back to a more familiar story.

It's actually quite unusual, I can only think of a handful of science fiction stories that depict emergent intelligence like this. Almost all go with the "artificially created" variety.

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Nice answer.. but, I don't see anything from canon. –  Sachin Shekhar Nov 26 '12 at 18:33
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Um...Jane? –  DVK Nov 26 '12 at 18:49
    
@SachinShekhar Well, I didn't happen to be watching it at the very moment that you posted the question. It's in there though. –  John O Nov 26 '12 at 19:24
    
@DVK Jane was actually some sort of spacemormon-soul called by aliens or some crap like that. Does it count? –  John O Nov 26 '12 at 19:24
    
@JohnO - Jane was explained pretty comprehensively on SFF.SE. It was a combination of a very powerful AI merged with a "soul" (aka philote). –  DVK Nov 26 '12 at 19:34

I always thought by johns words that Skynet itself released the virus knowing the humans couldnt cope with the virus and would turn to skynet to cure it which would give it the full access to the systems skynet wanted and is want happend at the end of the film ?

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I also believe that it was Skynet which released the unbeatable virus. My question is: How can a software release a virus before its activation? –  Sachin Shekhar Jul 12 '13 at 20:12

No, Skynet is not a virus. It's just the military net control system. It became "self-aware" (made up his own mind and purpose). It was active all the time, it was just "activated", as in self-checking and repairing errors. They just didn't think it would turn against its designers. In other words, because of lack of resources, they were playing with fire when they gave machines full freedom to decide what to do. They made it self-aware, and they blew it on themselves.

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Skynet was virus. See the quote in DVK's answer. –  Sachin Shekhar May 17 at 15:53

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