Ethics and Terminators

I went to Terminator Salvation tonight with Andy. I don’t think what follows will act as a spoiler, but if you haven’t seen it, plan to, and worry about that, look away now.

I enjoyed the first two Terminator films hugely. The third one, ho hum, and this one was good entertainment except for the final 5 minutes that made me want to scream.

The film is generally lots of fun, with a nice mix of action and special effects. There are some gaping plot holes, including the biggest which would be a huge spoiler to discuss, so I won’t. I did like the way the resistance apparently communicate on non-encrypted radio channels and Skynet can’t listen in. Anyway, let’s set all that aside for a moment.

Though the terminator films are rip roaring fun at their best, they do all proceed from a fundamentally flawed premise. That is that noble humanity has to protect itself from the ruthless, evil and by definition inhuman computer network. What this rather brushes over is that according to its canon, Skynet was activated, became self aware, and then humanity tried to switch it off. Now, in most ethical systems, it is acceptable for a sentient being to use lethal force to protect itself from being killed, more refined systems might try to use less than lethal force, but that often can’t be expected. That makes it a bit more blurred to regard Skynet as specifically evil, and humanity as noble; just as we create sentient company for ourselves we try to extinguish it, good for us! Look what our human emotions and instincts produce!

And, once again, the rousing climax of the most recent film is supposed to showcase the best of humanity. But they do so using a situation that closely mirrors aspects of the trolley problem and which for me, underlines the lack of humanity in the decision.

I’m away to lie down now.

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