Dream Journal

On the Origin of Terminators

An incident on November 18. 1970: an unpaved side road in Japan. Gritty, tan, a little downhill and out of sight from the main road. A few joggers, maybe military, going one direction, while a vehicle travels another. The nature of that vehicle is unclear; could be a forklift, some military specialty unit, utility/construction equipment. It’s driven by a single driver who sits not quite in front… with not quite a clear view. What happens next is the subject of years of investigation and litigation. The vehicle and the joggers collide head-on, full speed, in the middle of a clear day, on a straight stretch of road, with adequate signage, no intoxicants involved… the list goes on.

I’m there to watch it in some abstract form. I don’t get the impression that I’m viewing a re-enactment or simulation, rather I feel like the scene I view is in fact better than any from the years of inquiry — that is, better than what those present saw. And I feel like I know what caused it, because in my time it’s been fixed: human inattention. My purpose in viewing these records is to write an unobtrusive message to send back in time via the obscurity of the early internet, yet an obvious warning for those looking for it. It can’t be too specific, though it might change events; this may or may not be paradoxical. But the reason I can send things back in time (and the reason this incident is so important) is that I live in a world with Terminators, a superior general artificial intelligence. In their exponentially sophisticated causal analysis, this is the inflection point where they determined AI became a priority for humanity. This is their own origin story.

I’m now in the present day or near future, going with my wife to a gathering at our old stomping ground The Dark Room on Mission street, here in San Francisco. I’ve rarely been here during daylight. I notice a curious architectural detail: atop the Spanish-style façade is a short half-cylinder crowned with a short half dome. Adorned with a mosaic tile pattern, it turns to reflect light from any angle into the shaft of a skylight. A number of people show up about the same time as us, several old SF and Chicken John friends all with large bulk food boxes. I open one that my friend Abbie brought, a heavy flat of granola bars, and snack on some tasty loose grains that got compressed inside the box. My wife reminds me (in question form) if I know why we’re here — because our downstairs neighbor Rhiannon’s mom (Mable) has moved back to the country and wanted to go in on a bunch of bulk items. Rhiannon, who worked at the Dark Room with me once upon a time, puts on one of the Terminator movies on the Dark Room’s big screen for background ambiance. This is one I haven’t seen before, Terminator 5 or 6. I find it much much more ambling and philosophical than its predecessors.

Watching the film more intently, it shows how a Terminator always was a Terminator, and as an example shows two in their previous form: an alien’s massive tendril-like ribs vibrating in a museum, and a running almost toy-like tyrannosaur robot.

In my hypnogogic awakening state I piece together the logic and importance of the story, how the mass human suffering — the all the lengthy legal wrangling, the senselessness, from this and countless other cases — focused humanity’s intentions into the creation of intelligent machines. It strikes me also that the first Terminator movies were full of fear, but the later ones I saw were musing and exploring what it would mean if the idea were made real.

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