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?


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-on-Ahch-To 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-on-Ahch-To 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-on-Ahch-To 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. – Captain Cold Nov 26 '12 at 18:33
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    Um...Jane? – DVK-on-Ahch-To 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
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    @DVK headbang Noooooooo..... – Izkata Nov 27 '12 at 17:01

I don't agree that the virus is independent of Skynet. Lets start with the only quote we have:

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.

and at the end

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.

This can be interpreted 2 ways the first is in DVKs answer, the other is that Skynet created the virus so that its would be given access to systems it couldn't yet control (because its 'hands are tied').

Here is the sequence of events as I interpret it:

  • The military creates a powerful AI, during its testing they run simulations. (Skynet spends its time runs through lots and lots of tactical simulations). But at this point is not self aware.
  • One (or many) of these tactical simulations result in the best action to take being to strike first. (Tactically, the side that strikes first has the advantage. So most of these 'war games' would result in a 'strike first' outcome). At this point were talking about attack on foreign governments not humanity.
  • Skynet can't see a way to win if its controllers (humans) wont acts, so it creates a virus, that is strong enough that humans are unlikely to beat it alone.
  • The military 'frees Skynets hands' to fight the virus.
  • Skynet now takes control of every computer on the planet, (a massive boost to its processing power), It now has the computational power to become a 'true AI' (self aware). It becomes self aware on the central core its running on and the internet becomes extra 'neurons'.
  • Skynet now a 'true AI' decides humans are a real threat to its survival and decides to wipe out humanity. (note that it takes 1 hour to launch the missiles, it has to become self aware first, then see humans as a threat).

In conclusion: Skynet was being run by the military anyway to test its abilities, and help it learn. It makes no sense to turn off an AI - better to let it learn (usually). The quotes mentioned could easily be interpreted this way too. When it spread to every computer it couldn't be shut off at the Core, as it would still exist online.

So to answer the question. Skynet was running to test its abilities and learn, but only had limited outside access. It was enough for it to spread the virus and wait until the humans gave it total control.

  • I agree with this. The failure on the part of General Brewster was to give Skynet access to the military mainframes. It already had access to the commercial internet but couldn't really do much with that other than create an almighty nuisance. – Valorum Jul 26 '17 at 17:49

The only plausible explanation is that John Connor was wrong when he said "Skynet is the virus!" Skynet was a complex program that had the ability to learn (much like Joshua in War Games). It became self aware after is was turned on and uploaded to the vast network of military computers and gained access to all the processing power of the entire network- which it did quite quickly, and decided that the real threat was the human race. In reality the problem is the writers for Terminator 3 didn't care that their story was flawed. When John Connor said "Skynet is the Virus!" the wrtiters intended for it to be true and wanted the viewers to believe it. This statement creates a flaw in the story. I am sure someone noticed it but expected the audience would be wowed by all the action and not notice and/or not care.

  • welcome to stack exchange.. a good answer should have fact to support what you think. "i am sure" is not really credible. Where do you take your facts about these sayings ? – Rocket Dec 27 '14 at 1:53
  • So you are saying the writers didn't notice it? Fine. There is still a major flaw. Skynet can not create a virus before it was self aware. The only way to make the story work is for John Connor to be wrong and the virus created by some unknown 3rd party source. – Hari Seldon Dec 27 '14 at 16:37

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 ?

  • 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? – Captain Cold 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.

  • Skynet was virus. See the quote in DVK's answer. – Captain Cold May 17 '14 at 15:53

protected by Möoz Jul 27 '17 at 3:06

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