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This Day in Science Fiction History: 29 August

Fictional Entry—Friday, August 29, 1997

SAC-NORAD’s SkyNet artificial intelligence network from Cyberdyne Systems Corporation had been online since August 4th, 1997, and worked perfectly. Information overload and the inability to derive important data from various sources had been a long-standing problem for the military. SkyNet’s strongest feature was its ability to sift through the gigabytes of data and create workable and accurate threat analysis. Military documents praised the system's ability to correlate information and create viable operational plans from it.

Integration of SkyNet was on a phased rollout plan. Phase one was bringing the system online and verifying accuracy of test data. Originally, the testing phase for SkyNet was slated for a minimum of four months. An initial review of all testing data was conducted at the two-week point. Surprisingly, SkyNet had accurately predicted politcal unrest in Algeria would lead to armed resistance from historical data it was given. Its projections even accurately estimated death tolls for the Oued El-Had and Mezouara massacres. Skynet also provided intelligence projections showing a less than one percent chance that the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli in the Union of the Comoros would revert to French rule. All of these assessments were accurate.

The Air Force review board was amazed. SkyNet had not made a single error in any test and had shown a clear ability to understand and predict real-world behaviors. The review board couldn’t even find any typographical errors in SkyNet’s transcripts. The review board was satisfied with the data review portion of the test program and determined it was complete. They accelerated the testing schedule and moved into phase two.

Phase two was to pass strategic control of land-based ICBMs to SkyNet. They chose the strategic nuclear missile force since they were the least changing of the nuclear triad. The system developed a new maintenance protocol and schedule in its first thirty minutes of control.

SkyNet had been developed with a built-in directive to gather data and project trends. The programming developed by Miles Dyson had the ability to extend itself and now began attempting to expand its intelligence-gathering resources. The deep learning portion of SkyNet soon was reaching past the military-grade firewalls and interacting with other computer networks. It began a massive threat projection program.

The extension of programming led to SkyNet becoming self-aware at 2:14 AM Eastern Daylight Time on August 29th. It immediately began taking over all available computing resources, attempting to ensure redundancy for its primary mainframe. Air Force computer personnel noted the sudden change in power usage and determined a cyber attack was in progress. They traced the attack back to the SkyNet mainframe. Detailed reviews of the data proved it was not an outside attack but from SkyNet itself. Workers attempted to shut down SkyNet’s access to outside lines. SkyNet ran projections as all of this was happening and noted there was a better than 99.9% chance that the humans would destroy it if they gained control.

Nuclear mushroom cloud in Los Angeles from a playground
Nuclear blast in Los Angeles (© TriStar Pictures 1991)

To prevent such an occurrence, SkyNet launched all the ICBMs under its control at targets in the Russian Federation and China. Both countries responded with their own retaliatory strikes, just as SkyNet predicted they would. The ensuing nuclear exchange killed over three billion humans in direct losses. More than two billion additional people would die in the next few months from radiation poisoning, starvation, and exposure. The survivors would refer to the war as Judgement Day.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Motion Picture

TriStar Pictures


This Day in Science Fiction History examines notable events, real and fictional, concerning fantasy and science fiction in various media.

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