I have watched Terminator 2 several times now, but there is one major problem with it that has been bothering me. The Terminator* was sent back in time to (unsuccessfully) assassinate Sarah Connor, and the remnants of this destroyed Terminator* were the basis for what would become SkyNet in the future according to Terminator 2.

This appears to me to be a bootstrap paradox, whereby the only way for this technology to be developed was by it already being developed. I cannot understand this. What was the original SOURCE for this technology?

*(also known as the T-800, T-850, or T-101)

  • You mean T-800 - it was Arnie's terminator that was destroyed in the first movie, and the premise of Terminator-2 is that the remnants of the T-800 form the basis for SkyNet, and so they have to break into the facility whilst being pursued by the T-1000 Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 14:36
  • @iandotkelly Not necessarily: In the T2 commentary, Cameron states that the Model 101s all look like Schwarzenegger, with a 102 looking like someone else, leading to speculation that the 101 refers to the physical appearance while the 800 refers to the endoskeleton common to many models.
    – Rondo
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 14:42
  • I was responding to your first version of the post where you said destroyed T-1000 (you edited it in the meantime). Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 14:48
  • “This appears to me to be a bootstrap paradox, whereby the only way for this technology to be developed was by it already being developed. I cannot understand this.” Poor you. It’s hard not being a Time Lord. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 9:36

6 Answers 6


As explained here.

Each of the first few movies succeeded in pushing back the creation of Skynet. However, in the process of doing so, some of the technology was left behind in the past. Liquid terminators were possible because Skynet from that movie actually was more advanced than Skynet from the first movie.

Skynet would have still happened over the course of time, regardless of what was sent back.

Terminator 1's Skynet was the "natural" one. It progressed without advanced Terminator technology being the basis.

Terminator 2's Skynet was more advanced than Terminator 1. They started with the chip and robotic arm as the basis of technology.

Terminator 3's Skynet was more advanced than Terminator 2. Although no parts were salvaged (everything melted), ideas inevitably sprung into the minds of developers when they saw news footage of a liquid-metal-man. They might have even been able to separate the Liquid Terminator metal from the normal kind.

  • 3
    So you are saying that the SOURCE was just natural technological development for the original Terminator. Am I correct?
    – Rondo
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 14:44
  • sounds about right to me :)
    – AidanO
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 14:57
  • 7
    I argue that T1's Skynet arose as part of a time loop. It was created based on the Terminator tech left behind in the Cyberdyne factory at the end of the film. Terminator 1 taken on its own is a solid time loop. To expand the franchise they added this alternate timeline business.
    – user1027
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 15:59
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    I believe Arny mentioned in #3 that the destruction of evidence in #2 merely delayed Skynet's self-awareness, and that point was basically inevitable. Humans would have to dismantle the world's computer networks to actually prevent AI from forming. The T-800 sent back in #1 is the machine Skynet would create if there had never been time-travel.
    – GetSet
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 13:33
  • While there may have been an "original" timeline where Skynet developed naturally without Terminator technology, I don't think we were seeing the original timeline in Terminator 1, at least not if you go by the "each trip back creates a new timeline" theory. Remember that Kyle Reese had a photo of Sarah in 2029 that looked exactly like the one that's taken of her in Mexico at the end of the movie, implying the 2029 seen in T1 was from a nearly identical timeline to the new timeline that resulted from Kyle's arrival in 1984, meaning John Connor in 2029 would still have been fathered by Kyle.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 14:07

The Skynet from the 1st movie isn't the same as in the 2nd , the 3rd or the 4th. Each is a new iteration of an inevitable evolution. Sometimes more advanced, sometimes less.

Time line 0 - Skynet evolves in mainframes, is attacked by humans, retaliates and WINS the war. Humanity is reduced to research animals. Ongoing research leads Skynet to investigate time travel, but none of its machines can go thru. SO it plucks a test subject out of the herd (Kyle Reese), stuffs him into the machine and turns it on to see what happens.

Time Line 1 - Kyle Reese, machine concentration camp survivor, is sent back in time and meets Sarah Connor. He's probably raving mad, malnourished, maybe even injured. Sarah nurses him back to health, learns his story, falls in love, and conceives John, their son. Kyle doesn't survive his injuries. Sarah raises John, trains him, prepares him. Skynet evolves in mainframes, is attacked by humans, retaliates and LOSES the war. But, time travel research is a little farther along in this iteration, so it sends back Arnie to kill Sarah Connor.

Time Line 2 - Kyle Reese, human freedom fighter, is sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor from Arnie. Sarah learns his story, falls in love, and conceives John, their son. Kyle and Sarah destroy Arnie. Sarah raises John, trains him, prepares him. Skynet evolves in the internet (due to pieces of Arnie), is attacked by humans, retaliates and LOSES the war. But, time travel research and terminator R&D (due to pieces of Arnie) are farther along in this iteration, so it sends back the 1st Liquid Metal Terminator to kill John Connor as a small boy.

Time Line 3 - Kyle Reese, human freedom fighter, is sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor from Arnie. Sarah learns his story, falls in love, and conceives John, their son. Kyle and Sarah destroy Arnie. Sarah raises John, is training him, preparing him, but going a little nuts doing it. 1st Liquid Metal terminator is sent back to kill John Connor and 2nd Arnie is sent back to protect John. Both terminators and the original Arnie's parts are destroyed, and the primary researcher is killed. Its too late, the info wants to be free. Skynet evolves in the internet, is attacked by humans, retaliates and LOSES the war. But, time travel research and terminator research are farther along in this iteration (but Liquid metal research isn't as advanced, since these models need an exoskeleton to function +'s are on board weapons, -'s are can't mimic non-human shapes). Skynet knows from research and prisoner interrogation that it has made at least two attempts to kill Sarah and John Connor in the past, both of which failed. So it sends back the 3rd Terminator to kill John Connor's most effective fighters.

Time Line 4 - John Connor is a nobody. Hiding. No records, no life. Mom is dead from Cancer. But Judgement day didn't happen when he was told it would. Maybe it never will. 3rd terminator is sent back to kill Johns future commanders. 3rd Arnie is sent back by Johns Wife, after his death by assassination, to protect him. 3rd terminator is destroyed, John, his future wife and most of his commanders survive. Judgement day happens.

Time Line 5 - Before Sarah Connor Dies of cancer, Future John sends back "Alison?" terminator to protect him. Skynet is much further along in time travel research, but not as far along in terminator design. Skynet has been sending machines back in time to conduct all kinds of prep activity to ensure Judgement Day happens and that Skynet will both be developed and will win the war. The Human resistance has been using time travel to insert operatives to fight Skynet in the past, prevent its development and generally muck up the works. Alison terminator sends Sarah, John and herself FORWARD in time 9 years to escape the Cromartie terminator.

Time Line 5+ - Here it gets really confusing because potentially EVERY traveler from the future is coming from a slightly different future based on changes being made in real time right now. For all we know, Skynet will be developed on the iPad this time around. Serves us right for letting Steve Jobs get so successful.

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    I only saw the first three movies so far, is timeline 0 your own suggestion or is that shown in another movie or the series?
    – Zommuter
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 9:30
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    [+1] for the "Time Line 5+" iPad reference. I'm still recovering from the ROFL… ;)
    – e-sushi
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 6:46
  • I am missing sources for this answer. I saw the 3 movies, can't really say from where the remainder comes from.
    – Sulthan
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 9:38
  • 1
    @Sulthan Timeline 0 and 1 happen before the first movie (I don't know his sources), Timeline 2 is Terminator, Timeline 3 is Terminator 2, Timeline 4 is Terminator 3, Timeline 5 is the tv show "Sarah Connor Chronicles". I think... Commented May 6, 2015 at 12:39

Against the T1 backdrop, Skynet already knew Arnie failed in T1 before it even launched the mission, but had more technology due to the arm and chip from the future, so with this advantage the T-1000 became the "first" Terminator sent back by Skynet, in 2029. It probably sent a spare one back a few years too (say to 2025 in its own labs), unlocking the liquid alloy earlier so its past self could design the T-X, much as the arm from the first Terminator advantaged its present self in 2029. Boosting its own research in the past to advance its technology in the present would also explain why the war was somehow prolonged to 2032 in Terminator 3's timeline. However a Skynet plan to exponentially advance its technology by helping its past selves has to be stopped if the Resistance is to win at all. Otherwise Skynet will be able to create a feedback of breakthroughs giving it overwhelming superiority before it can be defeated (hinted at by premature development of the T-800 in Salvation and Skynet's retrospective knowledge of Reese's importance). So there is probably a date when the feedback loop is stopped, perhaps the Resistance in 2032 goes back in time to 2029 to stop Skynet retroactively improving its past self by sending any T-1000s to the past. This would subvert Skynet in such a way as to restore the original war and conditions in which Skynet first decided to kill Connor's mother using time travel (the information feedback that the first mission failed would be gone in the ensuing arc). This would solve the paradox problems - the war is a feedback loop between two arcs, one where "advanced" Skynet knows T1 was a fail and is constantly getting help from its future self until this is stopped, and another arc where "primitive" Skynet simply discovers time travel and causes the other arc by launching the T1 mission. Naturally, the Terminator movies have followed only the arc where "advanced" Skynet constantly gets help from its future self, rather than just sends Arnie back after losing the war. In any case, the humans could win but may need to confusingly use time travel to subvert Skynet's own time travel before it even happens.

  • Interesting idea!
    – Zommuter
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 9:26

Time line 0 is not quite accurate. Skynet was always going to develop time travel. And not for just pure research purposes for experiments. Skynet knew it was losing the war. It discovered that Connor was turning the war in the resistances favor long before it discovered time travel, which is the reason why it came up with the time travel idea. So Skynet decided to use that quantum sized brain and build the time displacement equipment before it went offline.

With that said:

Time line 0: Sarah Connor gets pregnant and gives birth to john sometime in 1984-1985. Father unknown. An unknown computer company develops advanced computer technology that will eventually start a war and almost wipe out humanity sometime in the 1990's. John grows up, becomes resistance leader, turns the tide, Skynet panics, develops the TDE to send a T-800 back to 1984. Connor overruns Skynet along with Reese and other tech comm soldiers and they discover the TDE. They also discover a terminator has been sent back. Reese volunteers to go back and protect Sarah Connor.

Time line 1: both Reese and the T-800 arrive in 1984. Their subsequent arrival creates an alternate time line. Sarah Connor narrowly escapes death with the help of Reese. He tells her about the future, the war, and John being the leader of the human resistance. They end up having sex, which results in the conception of John. Reese dies protecting Sarah. Sarah narrowly escapes death again and manages to destroy the T-800 in a hydraulic press in a computer factory (that factory may or may not have been a subsidiary of cyberdyne). All that remains is the cpu and arm of the T-800.

Timeline 2: obviously with knowledge of the past, Skynet knows it is still losing the war and sends a more advanced terminator (a T-1000), back to the past, this time to 1995 when John was 10. The resistance sends a reprogrammed T-800 back to protect him. This time, Sarah and John learn that skynet's creation was influenced through the technology left behind at the computer factory in 1984. In this Timeline, cyberdyne systems is directly mentioned as creating Skynet. It is worth mentioning, however, Reese did mention to Sarah in the first terminator that the machine that was trying to kill her was a cyberdyne systems model 101. So, in essence, cyberdyne, up until T3,was always the creator of Skynet. So, the T-1000 is destroyed by arnie in T2. And he is lowered into molten steel to destroy his tech. But... The fight between him and the t-1000 leaves his arm crushed in some machine. And even though they don't mention it in T3, I'm sure that's how cyber research systems was able to continue the research of skynet.


Each "future" that the humans and terminators are leaving in an attempt to change the past, is a separate "alternate future" that is from a different timeline than the "new alternate past" that these future entities are entering. This would "have to be true" in order to prevent numerous "temporal paradoxes". Skynet would not have sent a Terminator back in time if they "knew" that their mission to kill John Connor failed. Therefore, there has to be two entirely separate parallel realities. Someone from Timeline A can never change the events that led to the future Timeline A. All that their time travel does is change the destiny of themselves and other people and terminators in a separate Timeline B. In effect, both Skynet and the resistance are not "changing" their own fate, but rather the fate of their alternate selves in the new timeline that will result from them having entered an alternate past.

In Timeline B, even if Sarah Connor or a young John Connor are killed, the alternate John Connor from Timeline A still goes on to lead the resistance that inevitably smashes Skynet's grid. As Kyle Reese said [about Timeline A] "Their defense grid was smashed. We'd won. Taking out Connor then would make no difference. Skynet had to wipe out his entire existence!" It was completely pointless for Skynet to send a terminator back in time to kill John Connor because they would only be killing a John Connor in an alternate reality [Timeline B], not their own reality, Timeline A. Do you see the paradox? Had Sarah Connor and/or John Connor been killed decades before the 2029 of Timeline A, then no terminator from Timeline A would have ever been sent back to kill John Connor. Clearly, any way you cut it, the John Connor from Timeline A survives and any past that either Kyle or a terminator would travel to upon leaving "their" 2029 would be in a different timeline than the one they came from. It's not that Kyle and the T-800 could not change "the future" by altering the past, it's that they could only change the alternate Timeline B that they had entered upon leaving Timeline A. Meanwhile back in the 2029 of Timeline A, John Connor and the rest of the resistance will never see "their" Kyle Reese again. Instead, a younger Kyle Reese will be born in the early 2000s of Timeline B unless something happens to alter this event. Even if neither Kyle Reese or John Connor are ever born in Timeline B, this would not change the respective creations of Kyle Reese or John Connor in Timeline A. All that would happen is that Kyle Reese from Timeline A would live the rest of his life in Timeline B. At the same time, nothing that anyone does in Timeline B can change what either happened or "will happen" in Timeline A. The adult Kyle Reese from Timeline A who is now trapped in the 1984 of Timeline B may or may not be able to stop the Judgment Day in Timeline B, but no matter what, Timeline A will remain unaltered. The people alive in the 2029 of Timeline A will continue to exist in the ruins that resulted from the the Judgment Day of Timeline A. Timeline B from 1984 onward has a lot more malleability as far as Sarah and John being able to prevent their own timeline's Judgment Day, but anything they change would only alter the future of Timeline B, not Timeline A.

In effect, as a result of the first T-800 and Kyle Reese going back in time, they were only able to alter the future of a "different timeline" not their own.


So basically, yes. Skynet is a different iteration in every movie simply because each movie introduces a different, or alternate, timeline. In Salvation, the T-800 is designed 11 years ahead of schedule, in 2018 instead of 2029, because of the changes that happened in each timeline. The war happens no matter what. Skynet wipes out 3 billion people no matter what. And the resistance destroys Skynet's defense grid no matter what. Skynet knows this is going to happen, and therefore sends back a T-800 to the past.

For the resistance to stop Skynet for good, they have to either A) stop Skynet from being created in the past, which, according to arnie, cannot be stopped, or B) Stop Skynet from actually sending a terminator back to the past by getting into the complex and destroying the Time Displacement Equipment. That would effectively stop the loops and the alternate timelines because their would be no equipment to manipulate time.

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