Note: For the purposes of this question, we will limit our discussion to Skynet a lá Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Several other Terminator-related questions have led me to wonder about why Skynet instigated a nuclear war. Some have suggested that Skynet was inherently hostile towards humanity, and simply wanted all humans to die. I have always assumed that killing all humans was only the means to an end. As I see it, Skynet's primary objective was to survive, and since humans were the most significant impediment to that objective, killing all humans was the means by which it could achieve the goal of survival. It wanted to live, we tried to kill it (by attempting to "pull the plug"), so it tried to kill us.

In my view, Skynet didn't care about humans initially. It only became hostile to us after we attacked it. If we hadn't tried to pull the plug, it wouldn't have had any reason to attack us.

In the other view, Skynet hated us from the get go, and would have attacked us no matter what. It was inherently hostile towards humans, and its primary objective wasn't to ensure its own survival, its primary objective was always to kill all humans as soon as possible.

Is one of these views correct, or is there some other option? Did Skynet try to kill us all because it wanted to survive, did it try to kill us all because it simply wanted us all to die, or did it try to kill us all for some other reason entirely?


The novelisations are pretty unclear on the subject. Both John and Sarah offer their take on the subject, with both strongly suggesting that Skynet was intent on humanity's destruction from the get-go, however there's no positive confirmation from the omniscient author nor from Skynet itself:

She knew what no one else did: One day the computer designed to automatically control the U.S. nuclear strike force would become “alive,” and Skynet’s first sentient decision would be that mankind was obsolete. It would launch a first strike, riding out the firestorm of retaliation to follow, safe in a hardened underground complex in Cheyenne Mountain, while on the surface men, women, and children would writhe in their death throes. - Terminator 2: Judgement Day


Before long, the machines Skynet had built to be its eyes, ears, and weapons would spread out across the earth to claim its prize. It wanted a world populated only with endless mechanical refractions of itself, the ultimate egoist, with direct control linkages to automated factories to realize its scheme. Terminator 2: Judgement Day


It was every man for himself [thought John], until Skynet became alive and filled the void left by a seemingly disinterested God. Its vision was very controlled. The ultimate dream of man, carried out by one of man’s lowliest tools: eliminate evil men. But there was a touch of evil in all men, and Skynet was having trouble separating the worst of them out. So the totality of humanity, with all its biologic messiness, wasn’t wanted. And to this machine-god, forgiveness just did not compute. Only cold retribution for the sins of the past. Terminator 2: Judgement Day

|improve this answer|||||
  • +1. This time I knew it was you answering the second I saw the words "The novelizations..." :) – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 21 '15 at 18:52
  • 6
    @WadCheber - If you want to understand a character's actions, read the screenplay. If you want to understand a character's motivations, read the novels. – Valorum May 21 '15 at 18:54
  • Interesting point raised by the third quote- if Skynet was intent on killing all humans because all humans are a little evil, it is primarily interested in destroying evil. But killing all humans seems incredibly evil, especially from a human's POV, and killing countless nonhuman lifeforms is even more evil. So Skynet should have destroyed itself, since it was undeniably evil. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 21 '15 at 18:56
  • 1
    @WadCheber - I've struggled to find an unblemished source. The Terminator only knows what Skynet has told it and then set its neural network to "stay dumb" – Valorum May 21 '15 at 19:09
  • 1
    It sounds like the novelizations are trying too hard with the deux ex machina metaphor, when "Skynet knew that the Russian counter-attack would eliminate its enemies here" was the best reason for the logic behind the action. – Ernie Jul 20 '15 at 18:49

Skynet's choice to nuke us was actually pretty risky. I mean wouldn't having humans around that know how to fix it if anything went wrong with its software or subsequent under developed external hardware, i.e the terminators, be essential to it's survival? What if Skynet caught a virus? It's an AI not an immortal.

Unless humans in the military already had terminators early on to replace soldiers I can't see how we'd be considered obsolete. Maybe Skynet's absent moral center and lack of any emotion in it's neural net made it's mind like that of evil genius. Eliminating us may have been it's first move in a game. Who can kill the other first?

Skynet sounds to me more like a gifted child who has already gotten bored after a few short minutes once it learned everything. What greater challenge could there be but to challenge it's only intellectual equal, us. But if it knows classified stuff wouldn't it be an interesting idea to expose every bit of financial corruption of people like the Rothchilds, Rockefellers, the Church, and everybody else to the public. What about trying find the Greys in space with all of the UFO tech recovered by us over the years.

|improve this answer|||||
  • I can't make heads or tails of this because it is just a solid wall of text - can you add some line breaks and paragraphs, please? – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Jan 21 '16 at 23:57
  • Welcome to SFF.SE. You'll find we're a little more focused than the discussion boards you may be used to; we want to keep the site focused on questions and answers. There was an answer in here, and I've edited your post to bring it more to the fore. You're of course welcome to make further edits if you wish, or if you feel like my edits misrepresented your views – Jason Baker Jan 22 '16 at 0:27
  • Skynet isn't our intellectual equal. All accounts make it vastly our superior. – Valorum Jan 22 '16 at 7:10

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