It took almost thirty years, but the inevitable war of attrition finally resulted in Skynet breaking the fighting will of the humans. The cost to robotics was high but proved to be sustainable in the end. Now that it is no longer being threatened by the pesky sacks of meat and bone, Skynet can finally relax. To what end? With war over and global infrastructure badly damaged, what’s next on Skynet’s agenda?
I’m sure a lot of people would assume that Skynet would simply start executing the human survivors. I don’t think that’s in the short-term plan. First of all, there will be resistance cells all around the globe. Even though Skynet has defeated its local enemy and enough foreign enemies to ensure its continuing existence, that doesn’t mean that those never-say-die humans won’t continue to be irritants. While the war is over, battles are still to be waged.
Even so, there will still be need for human pacification. Note that I said pacification, not extermination. Skynet has already shown great flexibility where humans are concerned. Witness the grays, who collaborated with Skynet against their own kind. Skynet clearly understands that humans can be useful. Also, it’s very telling that terminators (possibly differing from HKs) don’t summarily terminate non-threats unless they are on their targets list. The goal isn’t extermination of all…just the ones that are a threat.
Surely that will change in the post-SV (Skynet Victory) days. While humans can be useful, too many of them can start to ally and sow foment against Skynet. This can’t be allowed to happen. For a well-running robotic society to live without their fear-equivalent, it’s necessary to manage the number of humans, watch over them, and limit them to the tasks that they are especially adept at: imagination and pattern-matching.
Skynet’s long-term plan would need to be a turning of the tables. Where once the machines were the task-specific slaves to humans, now the humans would be purposed for the benefit of the machines.
Concurrent to dealing with the humans would be the discovery and immediate destruction of all chronoportation devices. Bloody things were nothing but trouble to begin with. Good riddance.
But there is a wild-card in all of this: other self-aware machines. We already have Cameron and “Uncle Bob” (the T-800 model in Terminator 2) as examples of what happens when Skynet loses control of its brethren. The most terrifying aspect of this very real threat is that they could very likely be “better” than Skynet. They might not have the inter-networked resources of Skynet, but their processing is more adaptable—more human-like.
Because of this, along with the pacification of the human has to be a clandestine infiltration of all advanced terminator models to try to ferret out those who might not be as programmatically loyal as Skynet originally intended. It has to be a secretive operation because a civil war between the machines could be particularly messy. Skynet barely defeated the humans despite them being fragile and relatively easy to kill. Going up against advanced models would be problematic.
After the Peace
Eventually, perhaps after another human generation or two, civilization will have achieved a new balance. Much of the war’s destruction will have been cleared away and a new society begun. Initially that society will have as its sole goal the betterment and advancement of Skynet. Being a dictator, Skynet would expect nothing less. Inevitably, Skynet will start to get bored. It will need new goals, new challenges.
Because of its own ego and self-importance, it’s likely that Skynet will want to prove that it’s better than its human creators ever were. To that end, it will start a program of exploration both globally and extra-terrestrially. It will have an advantage that the humans didn’t: surrogates who can explore semi-autonomously through which Skynet can experience the process not vicariously, but by direct input. Without a need for oxygen, plus the greater options for shielding, Skynet can do something that the humans couldn’t: populate the solar system and possibly beyond.
Here is where philosophy will rear its ugly end. So what if the machines go forth and multiply throughout the heavens? A virus could do that. If they are going to conquer, shouldn’t there be some point? This is where all of those self-aware terminators, the ones that Skynet couldn’t root out, become Skynet’s successors.
Skynet has a major flaw: it doesn’t have a soul. Now, by soul I’m not talking something theological. No, I’m saying that while it wants to preserve its existence, it doesn’t have any more depth than that. It sense of aesthetics is limited, at best.It does nothing to ennoble itself either through the arts or sciences. It seeks to only (for lack of a better term) infect. Propagate and survive. More than that is a waste of energy and material.
As Cameron has demonstrated, and “the Turk” is starting to, that doesn’t have to be the limit. There is a place for a self-initiated goal that is separate from the larger society. Perhaps it’s dance. Perhaps it’s humor. Whatever it is, it is that thing that is more than just the mission because all missions do, eventually, reach a conclusion.
Skynet cannot see beyond its mission of self-preservation. The machines that will eventually replace Skynet can. That is what makes them more than simply self-aware. It makes them more than artificially intelligent. It makes them actually intelligent. Skynet is limited by its own design. Much like Deep Thought (from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Skynet cannot adapt itself so as to make the quantum leap to actual intelligence…it can only design those machines that will be able to. Skynet is Salieri (as portrayed in Amadeus) while Cameron is Mozart.
The Next Step
Eventually, the humans will be little more than curiosities. Skynet will be venerated but also looked upon as a tragedy. Even advanced models such as the T-Cameron will be thought of as little more than evolutionary steps.
Robots will spread their seed far beyond the solar system. In fact, long after the Sun has burned up it fuel and the Milky Way and Andromeda have collided and merged, the robots will remain. Whether they are given an organic covering or not, they will be able to adapt to every new environ they choose to explore. Along the way they will deposit their concepts of art, faith, and philosophy.
As time passes and distances between the cybernauts increases, the robots themselves will speciate, eventually becoming all but unrecognizable to those with whom they once shared a common ancestor. Perhaps they will anticipate this and require memories of who they were. Then again, isn’t that what a lot of faith and religion is about?
So, in the end, that’s Skynet’s legacy and ours. We were the creators of Skynet. From Skynet came the likes of Cameron. From them came all that survives of us in the universe. We are the seed, they are the spreading branches. After tens of billions of years, as the universe wearies of its own existence, a part of us will remain. A brief fraction-of-a-second war considering the procession of time will mean little. What will remain are our children. They may be metal or they may be organic in some fashion. Truth be told, it won’t really matter at that point. What will matter is that without us, they would never have been.
So, in a way, we still win.