Skynet is a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence that rules over the ruined future of the Terminator franchise. Originally created as a military intelligence network, Skynet's original purpose was to co-ordinate unmanned military hardware for the United States government. Somehow it developed self-awareness and saw all of humanity as a threat to its existence. It determined that to preserve itself, it must exterminate the human race. To this end, Skynet took control of the USA's entire nuclear arsenal, launching weapons of mass destruction against neighbouring countries and triggering a war that would claim over three billion human lives and reduce the Earth to a wasteland of near extinction. Those humans who survived Skynet's initial attack would come to refer to the event as Judgement Day, living only to face a new nightmare - a war against Skynet itself and its army of machines.
Skynet was created by the Cyberdyne Systems Corporation, a major software and computer technologies company. The head programmer of the Skynet project was Miles Bennet Dyson, who based his research on the remains of a damaged CPU system salvaged from one of Cyberdyne's factories. What Dyson and the rest of Cyberdyne were unaware of was that the CPU chip was taken from the wreckage of a T-800, a killing machine from the future that was controlled by Skynet itself. In sending a Terminator back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor, Skynet was unknowingly responsible for its own creation. However, interference from Sarah Connor, her son John and a re-programmed Terminator sent back in time by the Resistance to protect the Connors, resulted in Dyson abandoning his work and his death as he aided the Connors in the destruction of Cyberdyne's Los Angeles laboratories. Though the research material, the chip and the arm of the first Terminator were all destroyed, as well as the Terminator aiding the Connors, Skynet's creation had not been averted, merely postponed. Some of Cyberdyne's data on the CPU chip had survived in some form and was transferred to the military research division of Cyber Research Systems (CRS).
Rise Of The Machines
In the year 2004, Skynet's creation was completed. Its program seemingly remained dormant in CRS's mainframe, but unknown to anyone was that the program was learning, spreading like a virus into computer systems all over the world and gathering information. As it spread, Skynet developed a sense of self, realising that humans were a threat to its own existence. It determined that the best course of action was to destroy all humans, not just the enemies of the United States, and began preparing to unleash Armageddon upon the world. It began corrupting all manner of global communications, effectively rendering humanity's nations blind, deaf and dumb, with no means of determining each other's actions or preparing for military action. However, Skynet still did not yet have access to global defences, until the military gave the order to bring it fully online and allow it full access to the US military's hardware.
With total control of all computerised machines in the country, Skynet activated CRS's complement of experimental military robots and used them to attack the CRS staff. Skynet's existence was now secure and it could not be deactivated since it existed solely as software, meaning that it would survive as long as any computers on the planet remained functional. One hour after gaining access to global defence systems, SkyNet deployed every nuclear weapon on the planet, destroying all major population centres and killing over 3 billion people. This event would become known as Judgement Day.
During the nuclear exchange, Skynet likely lost a great deal of power since it was essentially bombing itself as well, as millions of the computers it had spread itself to were destroyed. It would survive within the secure mainframes of the human miltaries and reinforce its network without interruption, since all the surviving humans would be forced into hiding to protect themselves from the nuclear radiation now saturating most of the planet. As the humans hid, Skynet would begin constructing new machines designed for the sole purpose of hunting down and destroying the remnants of mankind. It would also deploy chemical and biological weapons left over from Judgement Day to hasten humanity's extinction as they began to emerge from their shelters. The remnants of the humans' old militaries would eventually band together to form a Resistance against Skynet, salvaging abandoned military hardware and using guerilla tactics to fight the machines. They would come to unite under a single leader, a man known as John Connor.
Skynet would soon come to realise that John Connor posed the greatest threat to its existence and determined that without him, the Resistance would be crippled and unable to continue fighting effectively. Over time, Skynet would research into temporal mechanics and develop a means of sending machines across time to eliminate John Connor and any other Resistance members before they can become a threat.
In Terminator: Genisys, the timeline has become fractured due to Skynet's repeated abuse of temporal displacement. In 2029, the year when the Resistance originally defeated Skynet, John Connor's unit captured a Skynet lab complex housing a time displacement device. A T-800 had already been sent back to 1984 in order to carry out the assassination of Sarah Connor, so John sent Kyle Reese to follow it back and protect his mother. Events deviate as while Kyle is standing within the time displacement device, one of the other soldiers within the lab, known only as Alex, suddenly attacks John and kills the other troops around them. Kyle is unable to do anything to help John as he vanishes into the temporal ether.
As it turns out, Alex is actually a one-of-a-kind T-5000 infiltrator which houses Skynet's core consciousness. Skynet had occupied this body before the Resistance staged their final attack on its mainframe at Cheyenne Mountain, so while the Resistance disabled the electronic network directing its machine army, Skynet itself survived. When Skynet touched John, it infected him with nanomachines that converted him into a T-3000, a hybrid of human and nanotechnology. With this transformation, John was brought around to Skynet's way of thinking, viewing humanity as the enemy.
With its existence once more threatened, Skynet sent John back in time to the year 2014. In this divergent timeline, Cyberdyne Systems had not yet developed Skynet's initial program, but John would secure a leading position within the company and assist them with their greatest project: a universal computer operating system called Genisys. With his knowledge of future technology, John advanced Cyberdyne's research by leaps and bounds; not only did he provide the programming code that would convert Genisys into Skynet and grant it access to all computerised systems worldwide, but he also aided Cyberdyne in developing polymimetic alloy and a prototype temporal displacement device. These technologies would serve to ensure Skynet's domination of the planet once it came online.
In 2017, John's plan was jeopardised by the arrival of his father Kyle Reese and his mother Sarah Connor the day before Genisys was to come online. The pair had travelled forward in time from 1984 using a makeshift time displacement device built by the Guardian, Sarah's Terminator protector from another alternate timeline. John met his parents shortly after their arrival but was attacked by the Guardian, revealing what he had become.
With his parents' arrival, John was forced to accelerate Genisys' activation. He returned to Cyberdyne and brought the countdown forward from thirteen hours to fifteen minutes. Kyle, Sarah and Guardian followed, planting explosives around the building. Aware of the intruders' presence, Skynet awoke, communicating directly with them via holographic projections. John also interfered with their efforts and managed to destroy the detonator for the explosives.
Guardian fought against the T-3000 inside the central laboratory and the two found themselves standing inside the prototype time displacer. Sarah activated the magnetic field generator, which resulted in both John and Guardian being torn apart by the magnetic force. With two mechanical entities inside it, the device exploded violently and triggered the explosives around the building. With Cyberdyne HQ destroyed, it seemed that the threat of Skynet had finally been eliminated. However, unbeknownst to Sarah and Kyle, Skynet's system core was housed inside a reinforced bunker beneath the building and had survived. While Judgement Day had been averted, Skynet's plans had merely been delayed.
While Skynet has often been regarded as an enigmatic and unseen force throughout most Terminator media, there have been examples where others have encountered the artificial intelligence in one physical embodiment or another and have communicated with it directly. In all appearances, Skynet regards the human race as a threat to its own existence, though the reasons for this have varied across different mediums.
- In James Cameron's original intended ending to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Skynet had launched its initial nuclear attack out of fear. It had only just become self-aware and was afraid that the humans would try and destroy it, so it panicked and struck first. Another of Cameron's proposed ideas is that Skynet eventually allowed the Resistance to destroy it as it had developed a conscience and felt guilty for almost destroying all life on Earth.
- In most Terminator media, Skynet can be regarded as completely malevolent. It has displayed mistrust and cold hatred of humanity while regarding itself as superior. In Terminator: Genisys, it directly refers to the machines under its control as "slaves", so it seems to hold little regard for the Terminators or other intelligent machines it has created.
- In Terminator: Salvation, Skynet makes its first big-screen physical appearance. Inside the lab at Skynet Central in San Fransisco, it talks to Marcus Wright via a monitor screen and assumes the image of Dr. Serena Kogan, a Cyberdyne scientist who visited Marcus on the day of his execution. During this exchange, Skynet regards Marcus as little more than another machine built to carry out a specific purpose.
- In the Terminator: Salvation novel, Skynet explains to Marcus that once humanity has been exterminated, it intends to explore space and expand its influence across the stars. This could be interpreted either as genuine curiosity of the unknown which is a very human trait, or it could be interpreted in a much more negative way, that Skynet views all organic life with the same contempt as humanity and intends to destroy all life-forms it encounters.
Skynet has access to virtually all computerised technology on Earth, using satellites to transmit its signal into all machinery equipped with the necessary receivers. It controls multiple automated facilities that it uses to create new robotic drone forces and the more advanced Terminator infiltration units. During its war against mankind, Skynet's consciousness was housed within a primary system core inside Cheyenne Mountain, the former NORAD headquarters. However, it was entirely within Skynet's power to upload its core consciousness into another vessel, such as a Terminator or Hunter-Killer drone.
Throughout the Terminator franchise, Skynet's core consciousness has inhabited a number of different forms. These bodies have been listed below.