Five Pieces of Tech from the Terminator Movies That Are Real Today

Just as Terminator: Genisys hits theaters, we took a look at how much technology speculated about in the Terminator movies has become a reality in 2015.

Since the original Terminator hit the big screen in 1984, the franchise has become a cultural touchstone for sci-fi diehards and mainstream audiences alike. The original film and the first follow-up, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, feature some of the most memorable movie moments of their respective eras, with cyborgs and soldiers sent back from a future war duking it out across L.A. as they struggle over Sarah and John Connor – the keys to humanity’s eventual triumph over its future robot overlords – and blow up more than a few cars and buildings in the process.

Those films also gave us some of the era’s most instantly recognizable quotes (“I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista, baby,” said with robotic Austrian inflection), not to mention some of the era’s most notorious product placement (future soldier Kyle Reese, having hurtled through time to save Sarah Connor from cyborg Arnold, slips on a pair of Nike Vandals that immediately became a must-have item for any male 10 or older).

But it’s not just the explosions, the quotability or the sunglasses-clad Schwartzenegger that makes the series important. The Terminator franchise’s dark vision of a possible future helped bring some very advanced technological concepts into common parlance. SkyNet becoming self-aware has become a central metaphor for technology going awry and outsmarting the people who created it (right up there with HAL 1000 from 2001).

In fact, more than a few of the high-tech concepts explored in the Terminator movies have made their way into real life in some form. Of course, with talented CompTIA-certified IT professionals taking care of our infrastructure, we have a solid line of defense against the emergence of an AI bent on wiping out humankind.

Just as Terminator: Genisys hits theaters, we took a look at how much technology speculated about in the Terminator movies has become a reality in 2015.

Cyborgs
When time traveler Kyle Reese tells Sarah Connor that the bodybuilder tailing her is actually a robot with human skin, she responds “I am not stupid; they cannot make things like that yet.” Reese replies, “Not for about 40 years.” That was in 1984, and, with pace of current technology, Reese’s prediction could be on target. The field of biomechatronics is poised to make humans with robot parts, and robots with human parts, a part of everyday life. The field has produced innovations such as bio-artificial organs that combine synthetics with real tissue, brain implants that allow quadriplegics to control remote robot arms and even a mechanical fish that uses electronically stimulated muscles taken from a living frog to move through the water. Breakthroughs like these ones could give us a cyborg sooner than we think.

Neural Networks
“My CPU is a neural-net processor,” the now-a-good-guy Arnold tells Eddie Furlong’s young John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. “The more I have contact with humans, the more I learn.” The study of neural networks is a burgeoning field in our world of mass data storage and incredible processing power. In a neural network, a system stores data in layers of nodes, strengthening or weakening the connections between the nodes in response to input. This approximates the biological process of human leaning. Recently, Google asked the neural networks governing image recognition to search for objects within image files and point them out. The strange images the system outputted are raising discussions not just about if computers can learn, but if they can dream – or hallucinate.

Drones and Other Futuristic Robots
The future war between humans and SkyNet’s unmanned robot juggernauts is a central part of the Terminator mythos. In 2015, drones are a sometimes controversial but decidedly real technology. Aside from military uses, there are plenty of other ways drones are being used, as retailers look towards using remote controlled quadracopters for delivery purposes, and filmmakers and photographers depict mind-blowing views of never-before-seen landscapes with the machines. Other real-life robots, such as the cheetah robot at MIT capable of carrying out a running jump at five MPH, truly look like something from the war in Terminator’s year 2029.

Augmented Reality Readouts
When we see the world through the Terminator-point-of-view in the movies, we see a world overlayed with a readout of meta-information. While in the films this is a function of the Terminator’s red glowing cyborg eyes, the technology has some real-life counterparts in 2015 that don’t require a robot brain. Various companies have worked on perfecting the augmented reality overlay, which would allow people to go about their lives with the benefit of added info popping up in their field of vision. While none of these have caught on quite yet, this technology will surely come back around – especially with wearable tech devices like FitBits and Apple Watches giving us glimpses of how seamlessly we can integrate helpful technology into our wardrobes.

Mimetic Polyalloys
It’s hard to explain to those who came of age after the ‘90s exactly how jaw-dropping it was to see a T-1000 masquerading as a stoic cop melt into a glob of shimmering liquid metal on screen. The T-1000 – made of what the movie called a “mimetic polyalloy” – was the villain, but those then-unparalleled CG effects made him the star of that film.

Luckily we don’t have to contend with shapeshifting liquid metal robots that do human impersonations in real life. We do have ferrofluids, however, which bear a striking resemblance to a T-1000. Ferrofluids are liquids infused with metal particles, and if you expose a ferrofluid to a magnetic field under the right circumstances, it organizes itself into a regular pattern of spikes. While ferrofluids have long been used functionally in audio equipment and computer hard drives, they’ve caught on with everyone from physicists studying their bizarre physical properties to artists creating hypnotizing installations, and even desk toys. Don’t worry though, the insides of your space-age lava lamp probably won’t start asking you about the whereabouts of John Connor – at least, not for now.

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Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.

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