Better Off Killing Alan Turing?

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A while back I was watching an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. One of the characters made the claim that Kyle Reese would have been better off going back much further in time and killing Alan Turing instead of bothering to defend Sarah Connor to ensure John Connor would make it into the future to fight the machines. Presumably the argument is that without Alan Turing the project of artificial intelligence would have been delayed significantly.

Of course, someone else would have come along to do the kinds of things Turing did, so I doubt this would change too much, perhaps slowing down the age of the machines by a little bit. But there are two much worse problems with this suggestion.

First, there's an ethical problem. Turing is innocent. The machines easily kill people who would threaten them in the future, but should humans sent back in time by John Connor become like the machines in their willingness to kill any innocent that would improve things for the humans fighting against the machines?

Second, I can't imagine how this is supposed to make Reese better off (or help fulfill his mission any better). He was sent by John Connor to protect his mother from the Terminator, and in the process he became John Connor's father, thus not only protecting Connor but ensuring his existence. If he went back to Alan Turing's time, he wouldn't become Connor's father. Even apart from the metaphysical problem (he couldn't go back to Turing's time, because then Connor couldn't have been around to send him there), there's the mission issue. The basic assumption of Reese's mission is that if John Connor never exists we'd never get the resistance movement going. This mission prevents Connor's existence. So whenever the machines get around to trying to take over the world, even if it's delayed, there would be no John Connor to lead the resistance. Reese would automatically fail in his particular mission if he'd gone back to kill Turing instead.

Other than the silly view of time travel this show assumes (along with all Terminator movies except the first one), I really have enjoyed it so far (I have several episodes left to go in the second and final season). But this particular suggestion struck me as being just stupid, even if you suspend disbelief and go with the crazy view of time travel they presuppose.

6 Comments

Thanks, Jeremy. That's a good point.

BTW, I thought you might enjoy these reviews from Steve Hays here, here, and here.

Battlestar Galactica addressed the 'eventual' issue. In it multiple times in the history of humans robot intelligence was created, it was mistreated by humans and it revolted. In fact in one offshoot it appeared robots colonized a planet, created their own race of robots to abuse and got offed by their eventual revolt. But rather than predicting an endless cycle of diaster, rebuilding, hubris and then diaster, it did hold out hope that humans may 'get it right' and not invite their destruction again in the future.

The stretch in these stories, though, is that robots would have any particular desire to destroy humans. Aside from the need to generate drama, why? I would think machine intelligences would be quite happy to 'live' in their virtual worlds while humans live in the material world. It would end up being a symbiotic relationship, like the bacteria in our gut, where each side is barely aware the other is there but to the degree they are they are happy for it.

I haven't gotten very far into Caprica yet, but I thought the suggestion there was that the origin of the Cylons in a computer model of an actual human being's thought processes was the explanation why the Cylons didn't want to be enslaved, because that person took slavery to be wrong and didn't want to a slave. Maybe that's not supposed to be part of it in every part of the cycle, though. But clearly the slavery element is part of it, not just wanting to get out of the virtual world.

The Caprica story line, hope I'm not spoiling it, doesn't really have time to explore the slavery side of things. If anything it is probably a slight retelling of the Tower of Babel where the monotheists try to 'force God's hand' by creating an afterlife as avatar....that you know from the series premier.

It was BSG that established that the story of humanity creating and then pushing the robots to revolt thereby setting them back to primitive times happened not once but multiple times.....see "all this has happened before and will happen again..."

"someone else would have come along to do the kinds of things Turing did"

tacit historicism alert. :-)

I don't think I'm spoiling it to say that the reason the cyclons have a human intelligence is because an 'image' of Greystone's daughter's mind was copied into the thousands of cyclons the company will produce. As you know from the first episode, the original cyclons just couldn't quite perform as intelligently as they wanted in battle simulations. Greystone doesn't tell people about trying to put his daughter in one of the cyclons. Even so, for most of the series the only cyclon that 'works' correctly is the one lone robot that has Zoe's avatar inside of it.

This may spoil things slightly but the series itself never really got into the nature of the 'slavery' of the cyclons and why it was bad. When you think about it that's a tough nut to crack. Slavery is bad for us humans because our bodies are limited and we suffer when made to do heavy work....a robot can be made not to suffer when doing heavy work and can have worn down parts replaced as needed with nice new ones. Put that together with the fact that your intelligence can 'play' all it wants in V-world and the legitimacy of the cyclon 'gripe' seems pretty slim.

The 'image' I suppose of the original Zoe is why the future cyclons are given to individual thought and partial to monotheism as a religion (although I wish both of the series had gone into a little more detail about the nature of their monotheistic theology, in particular the series never really explains the determinates of their monotheism. Was it just philosophically derived (many gods is silly, one God is simplier) or was there some type of contact with a divine figure or influence of a 'holy book' or a historical monotheist minority that has a cannon of work on the issue)?

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