You don’t need a Terminator movie, real or fake, to tell you AI is dangerous. Artificial intelligence programs steal art from creators and produce vastly inferior knockoffs. It’s a far cry from sending robots through time to kill people, but AI’s current activities remain unacceptable. One strange phenomenon sees AI plagiarists fabricate fake movie posters, casts, and synopses. A recent example borrowed Terminator, inadvertently suggesting a stellar new villain for a potential sequel.
AI Can’t Make Terminator
James Cameron appeared at the Dell Technologies World 2023 event a few months ago. He mentioned working on a new Terminator outing but maintained that the project was on hold until Cameron explored AI’s potential. Recently, a Facebook account called YODA BBY ABY uploaded a series of fake posters for a Terminator reboot. A deeper dive into the user unveils their presence as a satirical troll who fabricates false press releases for a wide variety of nonexistent projects, often using AI art. I discovered YODA and their charming fake news site Screen Slant when an unpleasant promotional image for a theoretical Polar Express prequel delighted and disappointed my parents and many of their friends. Their take on The Terminator snagged a slightly larger audience.
YODA’s usual output pulls in double or triple-digit responses. A cursory examination will find many Facebook users commenting only to declare the poster a fake rather than to express excitement. Their two fake Terminator posters, announcing Margot Robbie and Henry Cavill as Sarah Connor and the T-800, earned 13,000 comments and more than 14,000 shares. That’s despite their AI iteration of Robbie looking like Emily Ratajkowski and their Cavill looking like Robb Stark. Quality aside, several outlets wrote articles proclaiming the Terminator reboot a fake. That implies a lot of users needed the confirmation, which is concerning. This fake film trended highly in Google searches for a day or two. If hundreds of thousands of people around the world look at these absurd fakes by a user who outright states their satirical intention in their Facebook bio, what does that say about our current preparedness to fight Skynet?
Terminator Needs a More Nuanced Take on AI
As most fans know, The Terminator took inspiration from the works of Harlan Ellison. Two episodes of The Outer Limits, “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand,” earned Ellison an acknowledgment in the credits. Ellison’s magnum opus, to my mind, is his 1967 short story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” It’s the tale of the last few humans on Earth suffering eternal hellish torment in the caverns of a proto-Skynet called AM. AM is the most cruel, sadistic, and hateful AI system in fiction. Skynet lacks a personality. It’s cold, impersonal, and brutally efficient, at least within the bounds of the narrative. We’ve seen Skynet launch nukes, build robotic assassins, and order the death of countless innocents. Instead, future installments could explore the more subtle efforts of the killer AI’s gradual world takeover.
Imagine, instead of another action blockbuster, a political thriller set in the Terminator universe. We’ve seen Arnold and his increasingly advanced replacements tear through major cities time and time again. We haven’t seen Skynet slowly foment fear and distrust in the media and social structures until it can become the dominant intelligence. We haven’t seen AI use its advanced machines to replace key figures throughout government and industry. A new outing in the Terminator franchise doesn’t have to see another impossibly capable machine shoot into various crowds, but it does have to explore the evils of technology. The world where countless people get tricked by bad AI movie posters is also primed to see the machines and their creators as clever subterfuge artists. All James Cameron would have to do is capitalize on it.
Are satirists like YODA BBY ABY ultimately harmless? In a sense, yes. Tricking a mostly older audience with bad art that will never appear is nothing compared to printing fake news. However, the risk of trolls and tricksters using this kind of gimmick is creating broad distrust in all media. Are satirists trying to have a good time with some harmless fabrications also contributing inadvertently to a larger problem? That’s the perfect kind of question for a Terminator sequel to address.