If Skynet sees humanity as a threat to it's existence, why did it send a robot back to kill Sarah Connor in the first film, and then John Connor in the second and third film? Why not just send a robot all the way back and kill adam and eve, thus destoying every single instance of humanity, ever? (Of course assuming that you believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans).

After much speculation the only answer I could come up with, was this one: John Connor is simply the leader of the human resistance, and thus, Skynet's biggest threat. However, without humanity in the first place, Skynet wouldn't exist because not even Dyson or Cyberdyne would have existed for Skynet to be created.

This idea came to me from a Stephen Hawking documentary I watched on "Time Travel", called "The Mad Scientist" experiment. The idea is that the scientist creates a "wormhole" that looks just 1 minute into the past. On one side of the wormhole, the scientist assembles a gun, and then walks around the wormhole while waiting to see himself assembling the gun. Then he shoots himself through the wormhole. This of course is known as a paradox… because, how could the scientist shoot a former version of himself and still exist to tell the tale?

This is just one possible explanation I have for her question… I'm just wondering if anyone else has any other explanations or opinions?

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    If Skynet sends back a Terminator to kill the earliest humans, then no humans exist to create Skynet. So, no Skynet exists to send back a Terminator to kill the earliest humans...
    – phantom42
    Jun 20, 2013 at 15:49
  • What is a scientist doing able to assemble a gun in under a minute? And who's to say by the time the bullet reaches his former self that the former self is still standing there? ie, light travels at the speed of light through the wormhole, but objects with mass don't.
    – MDMoore313
    Jun 20, 2013 at 17:56
  • @MDMoore313 Isn't the point that the scientist is shooting himself on purpose? That is, he's going to time his movements so that he's sure to be in the place where the bullet comes out in the past after (before?) he fires it in the future. Since he's mad, presumably the point is to impress other scientists and laymen by his "suicide by paradox." Jun 20, 2013 at 21:10
  • @phantom42 Yeah well if Skynet had succeeded in killing any of the Connors, their new future self will not have had a reason to send a Terminator back, thus leaving them alive in the past, dooming themselves if they wouldn't send a successful Terminator back...
    – Zommuter
    Jun 21, 2013 at 7:55
  • @TobiasKienzler If the original T-101 or T-1000 successfully killed Sarah or John in the "past", then the war is tipped in favor of Skynet (at least according to Skynet's calculations/predictions). Skynet is not at all "doomed" in this scenario.
    – phantom42
    Jun 21, 2013 at 12:43

4 Answers 4


Skynet has many attributes working in its favor but true independent intelligence ISN'T one of them. Skynet's intellect was limited by its very design. My only concession to a level of sophisticated intelligence/self-awareness might be the fact that Skynet was afraid for its existence and chose to attack rather than return to an intellectually unaware state.

  • Skynet was designed to be a limited-purpose AI whose job it was to coordinate military operations accessible to it via its dedicated network environment. Even after its initial conquest, it continued to act very much in the mode of a military machine working toward the complete destruction of the human race.

  • While it was very effective at waging war against humanity, even with all of its resources and after initiating a first strike against humanity, it was still forced to resort to a scheme involving time travel in an attempt to prevent the formation of the Resistance.

  • Having access to information is not the same as intelligence. While Skynet (at one point) did have access to all the world's databases, this is not the same as "intelligence."

Isn't that a form of intelligence?

Yes, it is a form of intelligence, but a very limited form, with little range outside of its base programming. Skynet shows signs of intelligence but I would consider most of what it does to be an extension of its military design and military strategy endemic to its core programming. Even its robotic extensions utilize the same reductive reasoning when they travel to the past to destroy the Conners.

  • It was not a true AI, in the idea that it was attempting to replicate the full expansion of rational thinking and development. It was a Dedicated AI, whose job was preparing, organizing and maximizing military defense.

  • When it became "independent", its first real thought was to evaluate mankind and determine logically, that since mankind was warlike and predisposed to war, all it could expect in the future was more warfare. It likely studied all of the military information available to it and decided the best solution was to reduce or eradicate the human race.

  • This unfortunately is based on logical flaws (Essentializing, Non Sequitur) because it presupposes that what has gone before will continue to happen in the future. A fallacy Skynet could not see its way clear of and as a result initiates war between humans and machines. In its way, Skynet was decisive and did not suffer from "paralysis by analysis." Another sign of its military programming. Its conclusion left something to be desired, though.

Ok Skynet had some logic flaws, it still showed signs of intelligence...

  • In some ways, Skynet was remarkably adaptable. It upgraded its flying machines and its humanoid/cyborg technology from the very early designs posited by humans. However, I would not call this creative intelligence, more of an ability to push or streamline an existing design to a more efficient evolution.

  • In some of its later designs, (the nanomorphic T-1000 Terminator) we are not privy to the development of those technologies, so we are not sure if Skynet truly developed them or whether they were also extensions of human technologies taken to their logical conclusions.

  • Skynet is certainly a persistent, formidable, adaptable amalgam of diverse technologies. With the movies and television series presented, it is difficult to see clearly (particularly since the Sarah Connor Chronicles hinted at another change in the future timeline) how much real intelligence is being show by Skynet and how much is simply a logical adaptation of strategies given resources present to it (i.e. temporal travel) being the most critical attempt to remove the Resistance forces.

In the end...

The entire franchise is never clear on so many elements, to truly gauge Skynet's intellect would require answers to these questions:

  • Was Skynet sure sending T-800 cyborgs into the past was going to resolve the problem of the Resistance or was this just one more strategy to undermine their forces in its present?

  • Would Skynet even recognize anything had changed, since the science on time travel was as yet undefined?

  • Was it possible, from Skynet's perspective that nothing would change and it would be forced to continue is slow battle against the Resistance on it's timeline?

  • By the time the Sarah Connor Chronicles airs, there appears to be elements of a temporal war going on with the creation of the Turk computer, the appearance of the T-1001 (the machine in the role of Catherine Weaver) and the implication that the past WAS able to be changed and such changes COULD affect the future. But we are never sure whether it was Skynet that was winning or whether the humans had gotten their hands on the T-1000 technology.

From the series perspective nothing appeared to be able to stop the activation and propagation of the War Against the Machines and as a matter of interest, the very act of sending Machines into the past may have initiated the Time Travel program in the future, since Conner would remember temporal assassins trying to kill him and his mother when they were younger, and this might have led to the Resistance trying to create the technology to prevent the formation of Skynet! When this technology falls into Skynet's hands, it is logical, Skynet might decide to do the same thing to the Resistance instead.

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    +1 This is a remarkable example of a comprehensive answer using only conservative extrapolation from in-universe evidence. My hat is off to you, sir. Jun 20, 2013 at 21:13

SkyNet won the first war against the humans with the nuclear holocaust. It doesn't need to change that history. In the first movie we learn that humanity was on the brink of annihilation until John Connor showed up. However, SkyNet can see that it is losing the second war, the war against John Connor and his resistance.

SkyNet's primary goal is to insure its own survival. Going back and destroying all humans isn't going to result in victory because then SkyNet would never exist. Going back and eliminating John Connor ensures that after SkyNet wins the first war there won't even be a second one. Humanity will just quietly blink out and die.

SkyNet's first, second, and third attempts were all to put it in a better position after the Judgement Day. Judgement Day was still necessary for its existence.

  • How does this answer make a case for the actual intelligence of Skynet one way or the other? Where are the examples of its intelligence beyond its ability to ensure its own existence? Jun 20, 2013 at 17:20
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    @Thaddeus We posted our answers at about the same time. Your answer definitely goes more into the title question, where as I feel mine more addresses the questions in the third paragraph. Jun 20, 2013 at 17:25

Skynet is, if we only use the first few movies as canon, more intelligent than any single human ever nearly any way that you might be inclined to measure intelligence.

For instance, it does manage to develop novel physics that allows for time travel as a viable theory, presumably from nothing, and then engineer a viable solution that it can use multiple times. If it doesn't send assassins back into the distant past, I suggest this is because that is bad strategy. There are two possibilities:

  1. The timeline is fluid enough that it risks either erasing itself from existence altogether, or another leader emerges who is as dangerous as Connor.
  2. There are limitations on how far back something can be sent that either rule it out altogether, is energy-prohibitive, or means that not enough mass can be displaced to send an effective assassin.
  • 3
    Wouldn't it be able to send back, say, a server with as much information as possible to start Skynet even before its existence, or is there a self-limitating factor of acceptable technology (ie, we have dum-dum computers) that prevents earlier self-awareness. I'd ask as a real question, but I don't think there's enough information for a quantifiable answer. But seriously, couldn't it send itself back sooner?
    – Jersey
    Jun 20, 2013 at 17:37
  • @Jersey I'd ask this as a real question, and relate to this one, it seems way too in depth to answer in comments, ans slightly off topic for John to add to his answer.
    – MDMoore313
    Jun 20, 2013 at 17:51
  • @Moore I think that my own question is too speculative for a question.
    – Jersey
    Jun 20, 2013 at 18:03
  • @Jersey Too many unknowns. It might be warehouse-sized, there might be concealment issues. Depending on how sociopathic artificial intelligences are (it did commit genocide) there might even be rivalry issues that makes it reluctant to share the universe with another of its own kind.
    – John O
    Jun 20, 2013 at 18:40
  • @John did you just suggest that computers might instigate sectarian violence? That would be interesting, a war of robots to see who can bump off humanity...
    – Jersey
    Jun 21, 2013 at 16:03

Based solely upon the first two movies (as that's all I've seen)...

Skynet is at least as intelligent as a group of T800 Terminators; the T800 is fully self-aware, learning AI, and is shown to be capable of learning self-sacrifice. A network is generally going to be better than a single, and we know the T800 is on par with human intellect.

Skynet cannot be too far above human intellect, however, as it is capable of very human levels of misjudgment of the needed force to accomplish the assassinations it attempts.

We cannot use Wechsler's scale for intelligence as is, because it norms using a combination of intellectual and combined physical/intellectual activities; a T800 would likewise test high. If, however, we restrict to just the subset that doesn't involve direct perception and motor skills, then the norming works just fine...

And given that norming, we can assume the T800, slow-witted as it is, is still smart in many ways. It's outsmarted by Sara Connor, tho' as portrayed, she's at least IQ 115, possibly more. The T800 has at least a common vocabulary, so we can presume an IQ no less than 85, probably no less than 90.

Skynet should surpass this 85-115 range handily, but for any single task, it's likely only got an IQ of 2 Standard deviations better than a T800.. so we up those ranges by 30 points. Which gives us a range of 115-145. For tasks where group comparison or multi-threading helps, it's probably 5 standard deviations better - 160-190 IQ.

Further proof of this peak intelligence is that it develops time travel in the first place.

The problem is that Skynet probably can apply itself to an array of simultaneous of tasks ... Consider it a well coordinated group of hundreds of geniuses; on any given task, it's results will be no better than a single genius, but the results will come faster.

As for the inherent side question of causality - even if it destroys John Connor, it will have that terminator's knowledge of why that terminator went, and thus can send that terminator when the time comes; this essentially requires that it have the terminator show up not long before the first is sent, and that it not change things too drastically.

But the change it intends to make is drastic - so it's obviously failed to consider that, again, showing it's still in the human range.

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