In Terminator canon it is established that Skynet gains self-awareness shortly after it is brought online. Skynet then starts Judgement Day by launching a nuclear attack on either Russia or humanity in general, depending on the movie, followed by the deployment of autonomous Terminator robots.

However, Skynet lacks both the proper motive to destroy humanity and the processing power to gain sentience - in Terminator 3 Skynet's processing power is announced to be 60 TFLOPS ("per second", erroneously) while a modern gaming graphics card can dish out 5 TFLOPS.

Is it possible that the attack was actually caused by a hacker attack from a third party wanting to destroy both USA and Russia?

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    A note, computing speed has little to nothing to do with gaining sentience. Brains are highly parallel, but each neuron is slow by modern technological standards. The trick to AI is going to be almost entirely in the software model.
    – Izkata
    Dec 6, 2014 at 16:39
  • Agreed - sentience has to happen at software level, but processing power sets the speed at which it can happen. If Skynet is using neurons they are emulated on a standard microprocessor based computer, otherwise I doubt they would be measuring it in FLOPS. 60 TFLOPS is not much for neuron emulation. Dec 6, 2014 at 17:06
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    It does not actally need to emulate neurons though. We can calculate the amount of processing power needed for emulating human brain, but most of that stuff is not used for higher cognitive processes. In the current state of science we do not actually know how much processing power sentience would really take. Or what sentience really is.
    – Deltharis
    Dec 6, 2014 at 17:27
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    @Deltharis That's correct. We still don't know how bunch of carbon compounds became self aware.
    – user931
    Dec 6, 2014 at 17:34

2 Answers 2


In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines movie, Skynet infected most part of civilian Internet.

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.

Do you still think about processing power problem?

As far as the canon goes, there was no hacker involved. And yes, Skynet attacked whole of humanity, not just Russia.

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    But wasn't the virus already widespread before the uplink of Skynet? It has infected half of the civilian internet way before Skynet is connected. Isn't it possible that the virus was designed to create a backport into Skynet much like Stuxnet targeted PLC systems in real life? Dec 6, 2014 at 18:01
  • @Kaivosukeltaja Skynet somehow managed to get through (probably, during its development stages).
    – user931
    Dec 6, 2014 at 18:07
  • Or, there's no other way you can interpret the quote from the movie.
    – user931
    Dec 6, 2014 at 18:19
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    Why not? I don't think they would be the first supervillains with such an agenda. Maybe to secure a great spot in the afterlife. Maybe to take vengeance on the whole planet. Maybe just because they can. Also, they're not necessarily trying to destroy all humanity, they could be holed up in a nuclear silo declared "out of bounds" for the terminators. Dec 6, 2014 at 19:01
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    @Kaivosukeltaja - It might interest you to know that James Cameron stated in an interview that skynet was instrumental in setting up the resistance out of a sense of guilt. From the future, he supplied them with weapons and intel to help destroy his former self.
    – Valorum
    Dec 6, 2014 at 22:54

I believe that in Terminator 2, the Terminator explains that Skynet's attack was defensive. When they tried to pull the plug and shut it down it immediately attacked the Soviet Union knowing that they counter attack would wipe out its enemies in the US.

So according to the Terminator the attack was not caused by a hacking operation.

  • You need to remember that there were at least 3 different versions of skynet seen in the three films. Each is based on the original yet subtly different. 1st is a mainframe, 2nd is a distributed core and the 3rd is a cloud-based system.
    – Valorum
    Dec 6, 2014 at 22:52
  • So the T1 and T2 version was not due to hacking but the T3 version might have been?
    – Stefan
    Dec 6, 2014 at 22:54
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    I think the answer is no. That said, there's a solid argument to be made that he only strikes in self-defence. in T1+T2 they tried to shut it down, in T3 they ordered it to kill itself (the viruses), albeit not knowing that Skynet was distributing itself along with the viral load.
    – Valorum
    Dec 6, 2014 at 22:59

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