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In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, how does the T-1000 sense things? It's made of mimetic poly alloy; however, does it have a retinal scan camera like the T-X or T-800, or is just molecules that allow it to see what it does?

In other words: let's say it is made out of nanobots. Would a group of these nanobots provide the capability of sight? Kind of like humans with cells that make up the brain?

I have always wondered whether James Cameron explained this on a special edition or if the topic was left up for insight from Terminator fans. From what I get from the whole mimetic poly alloy and some of the extra scenes, it seems to feel its way out to get information. Of course, it's very much not blind! Thoughts?

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    “does it have a retinal scan camera... or is just molecules that allow it to see” — I mean, when it comes down to it, cameras are just molecules too. Mar 1, 2021 at 20:13

6 Answers 6

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During the course of the film it is clear that the T-1000 is using its eyes. It turns its head towards those it chases, it gazes, and to me, this stands to reason. I believe that John Q gets it half right. That each nano particle is able to sense at least light if not also being able to tell the wavelength of that light.

However, without a means to focus the light, it would be like a primitive organism covered in light-sensing skin and only able to tell what direction light is coming from, not being able to make an image of it.

So I suspect that the mimic eyes actually function as eyes should. They may or may not have lenses within (We do see it making transparent materials in the movie), as the important part of a camera that can resolve an image is to pass the light through an aperture. The smaller the aperture the dimmer the light but the less of the world is being exposed to one sensing section of cells at a time. The sweep of the back of the eye of that small section of light is what enables eyes to create an image rather than to just sense color around them.

This accounts for the T-1000's use of its head and eyes as a person would. Because otherwise, it would only be able to have a vague sense of the light and color around it.

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    Maybe it only appears to have (and use) eyes to mimic humans? Part of the terminator's initial objective is to appear human.
    – user4437
    Nov 3, 2012 at 5:47
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    @DarkHeart which only puts us back at square one. The nanobots would not be able to 'see' like a human can. They are many times smaller than cells and single-celled organisms haven't figured that trick out, and they've had 4 billion years to do it. The reason is highly-directional sight requires physical depth and atomic resolution that the nanobots just can't have without being so large that they are more powder than liquid appearing.
    – DampeS8N
    Nov 3, 2012 at 8:55
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    There are moments on the movie where the rebuilding or shapeshifting T-1000 hasn't eyes at the moment but still seems to see.
    – Bardo
    Aug 8, 2014 at 11:57
  • I've read research on lens-less networked, single-pixel devices generating decent imagery through software. And the T-1000 doesn't seem to lack for processing power.
    – John O
    Aug 8, 2014 at 18:29
  • @JohnO This? nature.com/articles/ncomms7225 ? Because: A) I wrote this answer 3 years before it was published (and you wrote your response a year before it was, interesting). B) it paints the target with a bright projected pattern. C) the detection unit has complexity and thickness beyond a nano-scale that would still be better housed in eyes than flat on the skin. That said, D) a continuation of this technique possibly could result in the T-1000 being able to see. Too bad in the T-1000 timeline Judgement Day happened in 1997. 18 years before this research.
    – DampeS8N
    Feb 1, 2018 at 3:45
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This is briefly described in the official James Cameron fan site FAQ:

The deleted scene of T-1000 searching John's room was specifically shot to show the audience that T-1000 doesn't see but that he senses, like an insect or Alien. He carefully touches and massages everything with the tips of his fingers. "Touch" is a key word here - it's the same way T-1000 samples objects.

Novelization: "(T-1000) took in the details of the neighborhood. It wasn't just his eyes he was seeing with. His entire body registered the environment in a dozen subtle ways"

"It didn't need lights. It could sense the molecular structure of things by touch"

There's no distinction in T-1000's form - same drop or part can become a piece of leg, or an ear, nose or knee - doesn't matter

Novelization: "Sirens reached its auditory sensors, which could have been formed anywhere on its body (since every molecule had the genetic blueprints for all needed parts programmed into them), but were now in shape of human ears"

It appears that the T-1000 doesn't see at all, it merely "senses".

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    Great answer. Well referenced from multiple sources. You have my +1
    – Valorum
    Jul 26, 2015 at 11:48
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I think that he not only see but could also smell using whole body - look at this creepy deleted scene

where he's scaning John room, he is doing it in such unnatural way, that it have to be in film script or in director vision. I'm not sure if he is using his hands here to see, smell, echolocate or touch. But this whole scene is contributed to goal of showing he's mental and "physiological" functioning.

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All the nanobots are probably capable of rudimentary vision. They may only have a few pixels of resolution, but networked together this would allow for a very high-resolution composite image to be generated. It wouldn't even necessarily have to have specific nanobots assigned to imaging duty, I suspect that any of them located on the exterior surface would do so, giving the T-1000 a complex panoramic view.

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The fact that the scene was not used in the movie might be because a lot of scenes in the movie really imply that he is definitely able to see and track objects with his eyes and also to aim and shoot, which would be nearly impossible without any kind of vision.

Also there is a scene where the T-800 approaches the T-1000 from behind and is able to ram a steel pole into his shoulder (the scene where the T-1000 tortures Sarah to make her scream for John). That scene strongly implies that the T-1000 has blind angles. That is also supported by the fact that the T-1000 can also turn into transparent materials. Therefore it´s quite reasonable that he actually shapes partly into fully functional cameras.

And there are many other scenes which support that theory, like when he asks around for John in the arcade and the kid points into the direction of the arcade machine John sits in. Or a scene very early in the movie, where the T-1000 basically scans his surroundings with a stare.

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Your opening sentence doesn't seem to refer to the question, but to a different answer. Please only post answers that directly answer the question. You only seem to making a passing mention of shaping cameras, which is the closest you get to answering the question. You should re-write this to focus on describing how he does see, not how he does not.
    – DavidW
    Mar 1, 2021 at 18:58
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I suspect that he doesn't see, he uses probably a sonar-like perception system... much more simple and precise to develop than a complex visual system.

The fact that he moves his head and seems to stare at objects is no doubt part of it's programming, as it has to disguise itself as a human.

However, a sonar system would be far simpler to develop on a nanobot colony than any complex sight system.

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  • perhaps a combination of SONAR/LIDAR/RADAR for tracking of targets through solid objects, over greater distances, etc.
    – Monty129
    Aug 8, 2014 at 19:53
  • While watching this movie yet again, this would be a good guess, but I am not sure if it solely true. If it was just on sonar, how would the T-1000 be able to locate things that are NOT moving, in the case of it moving over objects and locating John Connor's pics in a safe, within his bedroom wall? Dec 12, 2014 at 2:50
  • Moving its head while using sonar would allow it to pick up non-moving objects. Remember relativity. Object A moving compared to Object B at a standstill is the same as Object A not moving and object B moving, in a different frame of reference. The movement still matters.
    – user16696
    Jul 26, 2015 at 3:32

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