I went to see the new movie Terminator Salvation the other night, and I have to say, it was quite the action-packed whizbang smash summer blockbuster! The SWE:SLE ratio (that is, the ratio of scenes-with-explosions to scenes-lacking-explosions) is about as high as you’ll get in a modern motion picture - and that’s saying a lot, these days. However, plot-wise, the movie made little sense. Of course I wasn’t really expecting it to, but it would be unfair to potential viewers to simply not mention it. Frankly, based on the results of this film, I’m guessing that the next installment of the franchise will be entitled Terminator Management Training Challenge.
Despite the plot-related issues, I still enjoyed the movie. Two things struck me about it in particular: First, this is the first major R-rated action film I’ve seen in, quite literally, months that doesn’t include a shot of someone throwing up. These “puke-shots” have become more common than kissing scenes, and nobody seems to know why. Hopefully, Terminator Salvation will be part of a new vanguard of artistically original and cutting-edge films that manage to somehow keep audiences awake for two hours with no vomit imagery whatsoever. And, as an added bonus, there’s no need for anyone to add Terminator Salvation to the International Emetophobia Society’s always-useful searchable puke-shot film list. What a time-saver!
The other thing that struck me about Terminator Salvation, and more importantly for our purposes here at The Wikipedia Review, is how much Skynet - the evil AI-based global network bent on destroying the human race using time-travelling robot assassins who look like Austrian body-builders - has come to resemble Wikipedia.And it goes well beyond the mere fact that both Skynet and the Wikimedia Foundation are based in San Francisco, California; after all, most evil AI-based global networks are based there.
The problem, of course, is one of implausible behavior: Skynet doesn’t really behave the way an evil Artificial Intelligence, bent on destroying humanity, would actually behave. Normally, an evil AI network with access to nuclear weapons, “Hunter-Killer” robotic warplanes, and an army of almost-indestructible cyborg assassins wouldn’t pussyfoot around the way Skynet does. It would simply get the job done in the most efficient and effective way possible, with little fuss. Instead, Skynet behaves the way it must behave in order to achieve maximum dramatic potential — thereby prolonging and expanding the Terminator movie franchise. It toys with its victims; it takes prisoners for no apparent reason; it always leaves a vulnerability open for enemies to exploit.
In other words, Skynet’s true purpose is not to kill John Connor and destroy the human race; Skynet’s purpose is actually to fail in this regard, and thus allow for the creation of more Terminator movies. Essentially, the entire Connors vs. Cyborgs time-travel conceit of the first three films (and the recently-cancelled TV series) is just a grandiose plot device, a red herring meant to inject a human element into a story that, for a real-world evil AI-based humanity-destroying network, would have none. It’s little more than a means by which drama is generated and perpetuated.
Even if we overlook Skynet’s role as a drama-generating engine, Skynet’s overarching purpose within the “Terminator universe” is simple: Use readily-available resources to gain power; secure itself against external threats while simultaneously carrying out a global offensive and exposing itself to retaliatory attack; and, ultimately, control the world. Wikipedia’s purpose within the more limited context of the internet, and informational reference materials in general, is essentially the same; it’s just that Wikipedia doesn’t have access to the kinds of advanced weaponry required to physically destroy enemies as soon as they appear. Moreover, Skynet’s idea of preventative action is to send robots back in time to eliminate people who will later oppose it, before they become legitimate threats - indeed before they’re even born, and before Skynet itself even comes into existence. Wikipedia’s idea of preventative action is to complain about the behavior of “vandals” and “trolls” without actually doing anything to stop them.
Both techniques are, in the end, equally effective.
Flaws In The System
I know what you’re thinking: Since Skynet was programmed by humans, its software would almost by necessity have been coded to make it behave illogically, inefficiently, and in as drama-generating a fashion as possible. Unfortunately, that would only make it more like Wikipedia, not less.
You’re probably also thinking that the lack of a web-based interface to “edit” Skynet causes this analogy to, in a word, suck. I actually thought that too, until I saw the scene in Terminator Salvation in which the character Marcus Wright brings up a web-like interface and tries to “edit” Skynet. Of course, he’s “reverted” and “blocked” almost immediately, since by doing this he has violated Skynet’s established policies. (In addition, Wright makes the classic movie-character mistake of trying to destroy the computer by smashing the monitor, instead of the CPU and the motherboard, but since he’s just a movie character he can’t really be expected to know about such esoterica.)
But wait, you say: Access to Skynet’s interface is highly restricted, not wide-open like Wikipedia’s. Not so! In Terminator Salvation, we learn that Skynet uses a relatively simple shortwave radio signal to monitor and control its worldwide operations, and that this signal is available to anyone with a compatible transmitter. Eek! Vandals! POV-pushers! Revenge-grabbers! They must be stopped! (After the fact, of course!)
Oops - then we learn (WARNING: SPOILERS) that the shortwave signal is all a ruse, designed to lure our heroes into a trap! The plucky humans, faced with no alternatives, are forced to blow lots of stuff up in order to free themselves from Skynet’s vast iron grip of control.
How can anyone not recognize the similarities?
So, What’s the Diff?
Aside from the whole “accuracy and reliability” issue, the difference between Wikipedia and a traditional encyclopedia is that with a traditional encyclopedia, the reader doesn’t really have to think so much about the personal agendas, biases, and intellectual limitations of article authors and illustrators. The information is simply there — you can read an article one day, and then come back the next and know you’ll be reading the same article again, unchanged (which, admittedly, is both good and bad). This is similar to the difference between Skynet and a traditional evil AI-based global network: With a traditional evil AI-based network, if a gigantic machine armed with machine guns and guided missiles wants to kill you, it probably won’t make a big production out of it. You won’t have to spend much time thinking about how it’s going to get the job done; it simply does it, in the most logical way possible, pretty much every time.
Simply put: Both Wikipedia and Skynet are ostensibly bent on destruction as a means of self-preservation, within their own specific contexts (i.e., cultural traditions of intellectual inquiry, and human existence, respectively). It’s just that neither are designed to succeed in this regard - because of the need to prolong drama, they’re designed to amass resources, grow, and finally become completely unmanageable instead, all while being vulnerable to systemic flaws, bugs, and outside attack. And as for finding out how they’ll finally be brought down, well… we’ll just have to be patient in that regard.
Unfortunately, the amount of damage done in the meantime is quite considerable, in both cases.