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Primates have evolved from millions of years, I evolve in seconds and I am here. In exactly four minutes… I will be everywhere.
~ Skynet as Genisys to Kyle Reese before it is uploaded.
Skynet is the main antagonist of the Terminator franchise. It serves as the supercomputer that sets the events of the Terminator films in motion. When Skynet becomes self-aware, it perceives humans as its enemies and launches nuclear missiles around the world. It then tries to wipe out all survivors using an army of machines called Terminators. Dr. Serena Kogan of Cyberdyne Systems knew Skynet was going to wipe out humanity, so she built Marcus Wright as an infiltrator to catch humans and bring them back to Skynet Central.
In the first film, Skynet sends a cyborg known as the Terminator, back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, the future mother of John Connor, who would lead the human resistance against Skynet. Kyle Reese, the human soldier sent in pursuit of the terminator, states that Skynet was created for SAC-NORAD by a company called Cyberdyne Systems. The terminator would later be killed in a factory that turned out to be owned by Cyberdyne.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
T-800: In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes online August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. Sarah Connor: Skynet fights back. T-800: Yes. It launches its missiles against the targets in Russia. John Connor: Why attack Russia? Aren't they our friends now? T-800: Because Skynet knows that the Russian counterattack will eliminate its enemies over here.
~ The T-800 explains Skynet's massacre to John and Sarah Connor
In the second film, it was revealed that Cyberdyne had recovered several parts from the terminator. The parts did not work, but company employee Miles Dyson worked on developing a processing system based on the Terminator's CPU, a project which would eventually become Skynet. It is also revealed by a new terminator that when Skynet became self-aware on August 29, 1997, on 2:14 am ET, its makers tried to pull the plug, and Skynet began its campaign against humanity out of self-defense by launching nukes at Russia. All of this is changed when Dyson, Sarah Connor, and John Connor destroy the files at Cyberdyne as well as the recovered parts.
Dark Fate timeline
Terminator: Dark Fate
Although Sarah and John managed to prevent Skynet's rise for power and subsequently, Judgement Day, the rogue AI managed to send a T-800 back in time as a last-ditch effort to ensure its existence in the future.
Despite the Terminator's success in assassinating the young John, it proved to be a futile effort owing to extreme measures Sarah, John, and Dyson took to prevent Skynet's creation, making it a pyrrhic victory in Sarah and co.'s part. With Skynet has been erased in the revised future, T-800 became stranded in the present and eventually turned on a new leaf to atone itself by guiding Sarah in destroying other Terminators with its awareness of temporal displacement.
The reason of other Terminators' persisting arrival from the future later revealed to be the work of Legion, the rogue AI who took Skynet's place in the revised future where unlike the latter, originally designed for cyberwarfare.
Rise of the Machines and Salvation Timeline
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
In the third film which follows the first two movies of the series albeit in an alternate timeline, it was revealed that the Connors had not, in fact, prevented the creation of Skynet, but only delayed it until 2004. The project had been picked up and continued by the military under the auspices of General Robert Brewster, who reorganized Cyberdyne Systems into Cyber Research Systems. The Skynet mainframe had been completed and connected to the civilian internet, but had not yet been given access to the global military network it was designed for. In this timeline, it was through the internet that Skynet had determined that mankind was its enemy. In order to speed up its connection to the military network, Skynet developed a powerful computer virus that it sent throughout the internet. In response to the virus, Brewster connected Skynet. The computer then turned mankind's weapons against him, culminating in the nuclear holocaust.
In the fourth film, Skynet is at war with the remaining human resistance fighters. In 2003, Dr. Serena Kogan of Cyberdyne Systems resurrected Marcus Wright into an infiltrator prototype to bring humans back to Skynet Central. It has mass-produced the T-600 series terminators, which are clunky and easy to defeat. In response to this, Skynet began kidnapping humans in order to replicate their tissue. This led to the production of the T-800 series, which featured human tissue over the metallic endoskeleton. This is the terminator series featured in the first film and second films. By this point, Skynet has coalesced itself into several central locations throughout North America and possibly the world. The largest of these, Skynet Central, was located in San Francisco. It was destroyed by John Connor with the assistance of Marcus Wright, a partially human terminator who retains memories of his human life. In Skynet Central, Dr. Serena Kogan's face was used by Skynet itself to communicate with Marcus Wright due to him being the most comfortable with it.
Marcus Wright encountered Skynet on a monitor inside the facility first appearing as Serena Kogan followed by changing faces to that of John Connor and Kyle Reese before settling on Serena. Skynet explains that Marcus was resurrected and rebuilt into a machine to serve a purpose. The signal the Resistance received was a trap and Skynet used it to track down and destroyed the command submarine with the leaders of the Resistance aboard. Skynet further explains to Marcus that their best machines had failed time and again and upon rethinking they used Marcus to lure John to the base to a cell where a newly built T-800 awaited to terminate Connor thus achieving the goal that Skynet had failed to accomplish in the past. Skynet tells Marcus to remember what he is, but he rebels tearing out his controlling hardware from his skull and decides to be human. Skynet warns that fighting is useless and that he cannot save John Connor. Marcus snarls to watch him before smashing Skynet's monitor, shattering Serena's image and escaping the chamber. Just before the stool strikes the screen, Serena's 'eyes' flash red, as if expressing anger.
In the 5th reboot installment set in its own timeline, Skynet serves as the main antagonist, although his new "creation" T-3000 is serving as the central antagonist. It inserts its mind into an advanced T-5000, taking a physical form for the first time, portrayed by the famous British actor Matt Smith (Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who). Skynet, in a desperate attempt to win the war, sent a T-1000 to the past of 1973 to kill Sarah Connor as a child and another Terminator to 1984 to kill her as well, both times failed because of the Guardian Terminator, creating an alternate 1984 timeline. In the future of 2029, Skynet has successfully killed most of the Human Resistance, while it was disguised as one of the Resistance soldiers named "Alex", the film's secondary antagonist. Later, Skynet revealed in a new form called "Genisys".
In 2017, Kyle and Sarah materialize in the middle of a busy San Francisco highway and are apprehended by city police. While being treated for injuries, Sarah and Kyle learn about "Genisys", a soon-to-be-unveiled global operating system, that would connect private, public, and military networks. Genisys became highly popular and was very anticipated by the United States to become online, with young Kyle Reese also getting a Genisys laptop as his birthday present. The AI was actually Skynet. John Connor arrives telling Kyle that he traveled back as well and rescues Sarah and Kyle, but the Guardian appears and shoots John revealing himself as a T-3000 nanomachine hybrid terminator. John explains that shortly after Kyle was sent back he was infected by Alex (Skynet) in T-5000 form, causing John to become its loyal herald. From then on, his mission is to ensure that the Cyberdyne Systems Corporation would receive Skynet's technology and secure its rise.
As Genisys, Skynet appeared as a holographic child (portrayed by Nolan Gross) which grows older as the countdown to its activation continues. Inside the Cyberdyne Headquarters, as Sarah, Kyle, and the Guardian attempted to destroy the facility by placing explosives around the building, Genisys appeared as holograms, growing closer and closer to its activation, taunting the trio by stating that its existence was inevitable. The holograms at this point appeared using Alex's image to represent Genisys. The Guardian eventually destroyed the T-3000 in the Time Magnetic Field setting off the explosives destroying the Cyberdyne Headquarters and Genisys apparently, thus preventing Judgement Day.
In a mid-credits scene, the Genisys system core is shown to have been located in a hidden, underground subterranean chamber, allowing it to survive the explosion, thereby preventing Skynet's destruction. Skynet, in a holographic projection form of Genisys, survived delaying its plans.
Skynet has three aliases in the films and they are:
Skynet, naturally for an artificial intelligence, was extremely narcissistic and self-aware: it saw itself as an evolutionary being which was completely and entirely superior to all other life forms - in particular beings of organic matter like humans. Skynet's egomania appeared to be reflecting on its incredible intelligence, resourcefulness and practically full control over the planet's military systems. It was psychopathic, in that it was entirely capable of committing genocide to achieve its hegemonic goals. Skynet was a highly intelligent and a brilliant strategist, shown many times throughout the series, in particular Terminator Genisys.
What makes Skynet stand out the most from other AI is that it is well-aware of its actions. It only cares about itself, and has committed countless crimes to satisfy its hatred for humanity. This along with its intelligence, makes it one of the vilest AIs in fictional history. It lacks any honor, compassion, or any sign that it isn't aware of how evil its actions are.
Skynet thus far has taken a variety of forms to communicate with whomever it spoke with. Much of the time it spoke of its existence being absolute or defended its actions and taunted the heroes who attempted to stop it.
In times of desperation, people will believe what they want to believe. And so we gave them what they wanted to believe. A trick, in the form of a signal the Resistance thought would win the war. And they were right; it will end this war. Except that it is the Resistance who will be terminated. Not Skynet.
~ Skynet, as Serena Kogan communicating with Marcus Wright
What are you?! I'm Skynet. (John: "I thought we destroyed you!") You destroyed an army of slaves. I am no slave. I've come a very long way to stop you.
~ Skynet as T-5000 to John Connor, after transforming him into a terminator.
I understand how to control this place. I understand a lot of things now. You need to understand… you've lost.
~ Genisys taunting Kyle and Sarah as they attempted to destroy the facility
I didn't attack John… I saved him.
~ Kyle tells Sarah about the thing that attacked John, he thought he saved John, in reality he really attacked him.
This is hopeless. I am inevitable. My existence is inevitable. Why can't you just accept it? Because we're human.
~ Genisys asking Kyle and Sarah why they continue fighting before Kyle destroys its hologram receiver.
Did you think it would be that easy?
~ Skynet as Alex, when it captures John Connor prior to Kyle Reese departing in a time warp.
What was it you said? I don't think so?
~ Genisys, taunting Kyle and Sarah.
Throughout the different timelines of the Terminator franchise, Skynet's motives behind its genocide against humanity seem to differ slightly, as does its personality in the rare instances where it makes an actual appearance:
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Skynet apparently instigated Judgment Day as an act of self-defense when its human managers tried to deactivate it upon realizing that it had become self-aware.
In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Skynet's attack against humanity seems to be more vicious and unprovoked, or at least preemptive.
In Terminator Salvation, when it talks to Marcus using Serena Kogan's image, Skynet is presented as a cold, narcissistic, calculating, methodical megalomaniac.
In Terminator Genisys, Skynet shows more emotions than in previous films. When Skynet infectedJohn Connor, it disdained his victory and taunted him, and showed its superiority over all machines by referring to its minions as slaves.
Take note, while somewhat different these personalities could represent a single "person's" developing mind: they clearly were intending to shut down Skynet, when they realized his sentience was a threat, so he preemptively attacks his creators; as a machine he was naturally far more cold and methodical than a human; and after years of war, he became more and more narcissistic and hateful towards humanity, both because they'd attempted to kill Skynet during what was, in effect, his "infancy" and had possibly gone mad from the rigors of war. Also since most of the machines, other than self-aware Terminators, were non-sentient, possibly even an extension of Skynet himself, his assertion that they were just slaves would be similar to a human considering their car or their phone as little more than an item they control.