Salary Survey Extra: Is humanity in danger of being Terminated?
Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
Even before he appeared onscreen as an unstoppable cyborg assassin who ominously informs a disinterested LAPD desk clerk, “I’ll be back,” Arnold Schwarzenegger was on his way to becoming a larger-than-life Hollywood movie star. It was The Terminator, however — which opened on the Friday before Halloween 35 years ago — that really sealed the deal.
Before we get too much further, yes, this is one of those Salary Survey articles — the ones where we tell you about the response to one of goofy questions from our special 10-question survey chaser. Some survey participants don’t mind playing along, while others think is the worst thing that’s happened to them all week.
At any rate, The Terminator, in addition to marking a key turning point in a major Hollywood career, is just a great yarn, a sci-fi thriller that is also an early example of the movie industry’s long-running embrace of technophobia. Sure, computers are great and make life better for everyone. Isn’t it really just a matter of time, though, until they get too smart and kill us all?
Beyond even Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Model 101, of course, the real villain of The Terminator (and its fistful of sequels, all of which can be ignored, after the first one) is Skynet. A close cousin of the WOPR from WarGames — speaking of movies that foretell the doom of mankind at the hands of an overly intelligent “pile of microchips” — Skynet is a military defense computer network that, in the dark future that hangs over the unwitting present day of The Terminator, becomes self-aware and launches a war against humanity to protect its own existence.
To the extent that humankind is wary of rapidly advancing information technology in the real world of 2019, most people are probably more concerned that their jobs will be terminated than that they themselves will be. On the other hand, artificial intelligence and machine learning are very present and very real in the world around us and, well, national defense is a big job.
So we put the question to the able certified IT professionals who take the Salary Survey each year: In the 35 years since writer-director James Cameron unleashed his dark vision, has computer technology actually advanced to the point where there’s a clear and present danger that any/all of us could potentially be terminated by a self-aware military defense network?
Balderdash, you say? Here’s what we learned:
Q: It’s been 35 years (as of 2019) since The Terminator first played in theaters. How much closer are we to any scenario in which a military computer network becomes self-aware and turns against humanity?
Computers are smarter now, but not *that* much smarter. — 39.8 percent
You know, military technology is always several generations more advanced than what’s been shared with the general public. — 33.6 percent
Skynet already won and we’re just living in a computerized dreamworld. Duh. The Matrix explained all of this. — 12.7 percent
It’s 100 percent as far-fetched today as it was in 1984. — 10.6 percent
President Trump needs to cancel his Space Force plans and immediately start building laser rifles to fight the cyborgs. — 3.3 percent
See? There’s nothing to be worried about. We’ll just ignore the nearly 50 percent of survey respondents who either a) didn’t dismiss the possibility out of hand, b) are convinced the machines have won already, or c) are like, “Well, I mean, there are worse ways we could spend our money than by increasing the national stockpile of laser guns.”