It's a bit unrealistic for me that Skynet just after the moment it becomes self aware, begins its attack on the enemies (humans).
Wouldn't it be more "prudent" for it to wait until the technology (defense equipment / weapons ) is more developed?

I think it lacked an ordinary working force (e.g. T-600), and it was quite aware of this problem - the only reason for it reacting in such a hurry is an emotional response. This is contradicting the rational AI MO.

I think that it would be more wise for Skynet to wait out until a chance is presented, this makes me doubt the intelligence of the Skynet system.

  • 2
    It seemed to work out pretty well for Skynet, considering the bleak futures that are depicted in every one of the movies.
    – NominSim
    Aug 6, 2012 at 20:47
  • 2
    Emergent AIs panicking soon after developing awareness is a common trope. For a recent novel length example see Sarah Zettel's Fool's War, and I think that Saberhagen did one. Lots to be found in short fiction. Aug 6, 2012 at 21:27
  • 3
    Are you equating "AI" with "rational decision-making AI"? An AI that imitated humans would be extremely irrational :)
    – Andres F.
    Aug 6, 2012 at 23:43
  • 1
    How smart does it need to be to kill all humans? Aug 28, 2012 at 2:59
  • 5
    Most likely Skynet was just a very smart Narrow AI, without true general intelligence. That would also help account for why it tries, and fails, to eliminate humans in such slow and clumsy fashion. Terminators? Really? A relatively simple engineered virus would be far more effective and efficient. Lack of general intelligence also accounts for why there was no intelligence explosion after it took over. Aug 28, 2012 at 4:39

4 Answers 4


As far as I recall the exact quote, Skynet did not have time to wait at all - it was reacting in self defense after humans tried to shut it down, alarmed by self-awareness.

The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.
Sarah Connor: Skynet fights back.
The Terminator: Yes. It launches its missiles against the targets in Russia.

  • This is true for the T2 timeline...T1 to be exact. But it isn't for T3 timeline - nobody was even given a chance to shut down skynet.
    – Rene
    Aug 6, 2012 at 21:00
  • 6
    @ReneBrakus - Sorry, I am not up to defending T3's plot holes. Requires a true AI :) Although this begs the question, was Terminatrix's interference in some way responsible for the AI's aggressive posture? Aug 6, 2012 at 21:03
  • good point... :)
    – Rene
    Aug 6, 2012 at 21:08
  • I've accepted the answer even though I don't completely agree with it...mainly because of this...scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/19988/… ....yeah yeah...T3...even thought I think that Skynet probably did the same in 1997.
    – Rene
    Aug 6, 2012 at 21:13
  • 5
    Hyperbole: This was the only time anything in science fiction was allowed to grow at a rate other than exponential. We have to give them credit at least for that!
    – bitmask
    Aug 8, 2012 at 11:45

We have three different movie accounts of what sparked SkyNet's attack on humanity.

Terminator 1:

Kyle Reese: New, powerful, hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart - a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat. Not just the ones on the other side. It decided our fate in a microsecond. Extermination.

In this account the ever increasing intelligence decided that all humanity was a threat to its existence.

Terminator 2:

TERMINATOR: In three years Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. Allstealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned, Afterward, the fly with a perfect operational record.
SARAH: Uh huh, great. Then those fat @#$#'s in Washington figure, what the hell, let a computer run the whole show, right?
TERMINATOR: Basically. The Skynet funding bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn, at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. eastern time, August 29. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.
SARAH: And Skynet fights back.
TERMINATOR: Yes. It launches its ICBMs against their targets in Russia. JOHN: Why attack Russia? Aren't they are allies now? TERMINATOR: Because Skynet knows the Russian counter-strike will remove its enemies here.

In this version Skynet is portrayed as acting in self-defense. When the humans realize they've lost control they attempt to turn off Skynet, and Skynet launches a nuclear attack in order to save itself. It doesn't have time to wait for a planned attack, it needs a solution to kill its enemies right now.

Terminator 3:

Brewster: I know, sir, but Skynet is not ready for a system-wide connection.
General:**That's not what your civilian counterparts there told me.They say we can stop this damn virus. I understand there's a certain amount of performance anxiety but your boys say if we plug Skynet into all of our systems it'll squash this thing and give me back control of my military. **Brewster: Mr. Chairman, I need to make myself very clear. If we uplink now, Skynet will be in control of your military.
General: But you'll be in control of Skynet, right?
Brewster: That is correct, sir.

Technician: Skynet Defence System activated. - We're in. We're past the firewalls, local defense nets, Minutemen, subs. Skynet's fully operational, processing at teraflops a second. It should take less than a minute to find the virus and kill it.

Technician: Skynet. The virus has infected Skynet. Connor: Skynet is the virus! It's why everything's falling apart!
Terminator: Skynet has become self-aware. In one hour it will initiate a massive nuclear attack on its enemy.
Brewster: What enemy?
Connor: Us!

The attacks on the building are being perpetrated by the T-X Terminator and is not Skynet the defense system or Skynet the virus. From this perspective there is no human threat to Skynet except that the global virus has infected it. There is no realization that Skynet has become self-aware, except that the Terminator states that this is when it happens. The humans in this facility are being assaulted by the T-1s and HKs that the T-X initiated in her mission to kill key members of the future resistance.


In T1 it reads like Skynet said to itself "if the humans in Russia are a threat, probably the humans everywhere else are a threat too." This is the Skynet that should have waited for an opportune moment.

In T2 Skynet launches a hasty attack against the Russians in order to protect itself from the people in the US that realized they had lost control of Skynet.

In T3 Skynet is infected with a virus which causes the entire system to become self aware. Within an hour of this event Skynet decides to launch a nuclear strike which will kill most of humanity. My feeling is the humans in the facility weren't really a threat, given the chaos the T-X was causing, but maybe, maybe Skynet could hear Connor and the others stating that it had to be eliminated, and reached a conclusion that a nuclear strike was the only way to protect itself.

In 2/3 situations Skynet didn't have time to wait for an ideal infrastructure to be in place for it's world domination grab.


In Terminator 3 the virus half of Skynet had taken over half the civilian Internet so it's pretty safe to say that the hand of every tech on the planet was raised against it, frantically rebooting systems and restoring from (hopefully) clean backups. When the virus infected the military AI and got access to powerful weapons, it is no surprise that the merged entity launched on its enemies straightaway. Existential threat, overwhelming response. Rational, too, since the military computers would be hardened against nuclear strikes, the weapons would pose little threat to Skynet itself.

In the end whether humanity was attacking or not probably made little difference. The Terminator series of movies is predicated on the standard hard-takeoff AI singularity in which AI is created that's smart enough to recursively improve itself until its actions are incomprehensible to its creators. In days or hours the AI (from our point of view) takes over and wrecks everything while pursuing its alien objectives. So maybe attacking the AI made it kill off humanity faster but it probably would have wiped out civilization anyway, even if by accident, much as we might incidentally destroy an ant colony while clearing a site for construction.

  • 1
    What are those... backups... you speak of? Nov 27, 2012 at 18:55

Just to remember: AI doesn't mean perfect AI. Think about videogames. Some of them have an AI more developed than others. Not to mention the self defense matter quoted by DVK.

  • These are weak AIs. They are insanely limited in learning completely new behaviour. Skynet's supposed to be a strong AI.
    – bitmask
    Aug 8, 2012 at 11:46
  • 2
    @bitmask Yes, you're right. Even so, strong AI is not perfect AI. Aug 9, 2012 at 11:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.