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This Day in Science Fiction History: 4 August

Fictional Entry—Monday, August 4, 1997

Loading screen with the words "Skynet Neural Net-Based Artificial Intelligence Cyberdyne Systems Corporation" and the Cyberdyne Systems Corporation logo
SkyNet information screen (© TriStar Pictures 1991)

Cyberdyne Systems Corporation introduced a revolutionary type of neural net processor. The brainchild of Miles Dyson, the first successful processors were incorporated into the B-2 Spirit stealth bombers in 1994. The addition of these microprocessors and component systems allowed the bombers to become unmanned, fully autonomous vehicles. They flew with a perfect operational record from that point on. Because of the success of the system upgrade, Cyberdyne Systems became the largest supplier of military computer systems.

In 1996, Congress passed the SkyNet Funding Bill (H.R.2126-7) as part of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R.2126) to fully develop an artificial intelligence network for SAC-NORAD. The reasoning for the bill was that since the advent of nuclear weapons, there had been several times when flawed decisions had nearly led to nuclear exchanges.

Some examples of these situations are:

  • 1979: A training scenario was inadvertently loaded into the operational computers at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Due to this, NORAD computers alerted showing inbound tracks on over 2,200 missiles. The PAVE PAWS system was able to confirm the attack was a false alarm. [1]

  • 1983: There were two incidents involving potential nuclear launches

    • After a surprise drill, the US Air Force discovered over 22% of its missile silo personnel refused to launch their missiles. A new limited computer system War Operation Plan Response (WOPR) was installed to control the missile launches. Due to an outside hacker, a training scenario was loaded, leading to the attempted launch of most of the Minuteman II ground-based missiles. WOPR was removed from the control loop before any missiles could be launched. [2]

    • Oko, a Soviet nuclear early warning satellite system, alerted the Serpukhov-15 bunker of a launch from the northern United States. The system incorrectly identified a rare situation of sunlight reflecting from high-altitude clouds initially as a single missile launch and then as four more launches. It was determined to be a false alarm when the initially tracked missile did not arrive on target. [3]

  • 1995: Russian President Boris Yeltsin activated the Russian nuclear briefcase after radar systems detected the launch of a missile from Norway. The Russian ballistic missile submarine fleet was placed on alert and readied for a retaliatory strike. The launch turned out to be a Black Brant XII research rocket which the Russian radar officers had not been informed of by the Russian government. [4]

To prevent further such incidents in the American military, SkyNet would remove human decision-making from strategic defense while tactical weapons systems would remain in the control of humans. Many detractors pointed out the several previous computer driven mistakes in nuclear defense. However, proponents of Skynet highlighted the perfect record the computer systems had achieved with the B-2 project as a way to show the system had overcome the limitations of previous computer controlled situations. SkyNet was brought online and control of all strategic systems was transferred to it.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Motion Picture

TriStar Pictures



[1] U.S. News 8 November 2019 (historical incident)

[2] Wargames (fictional incident)

[3] Baltimore Sun 31 August 2003 (historical incident)

[4] The Washington Post 15 March 1998 (historical incident)

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

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