Director James Cameron's 1984 movie "The Terminator," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg assassin, was such a hit that it inspired several sequels. Schwarznegger's freakishly hypertrophied physique and unwavering lack of emotional affect make him utterly believable as a killing machine, and his line "I'll be back," uttered at a police station that he subsequently returns to destroy has become a pop culture catchphrase.
But what's equally compelling about the "Terminator" fictional universe is its updated version of Capek's basic theme, which is that humans are so darned clever that they'll inevitably invent a machine that will destroy them.
In the "Terminator" movies, the murderous machine is Skynet, a supercomputer network with artificial intelligence abilities, which Pentagon scientists in the mid-1990s create to run the nation's defenses. When Skynet, on its own, develops self-awareness, its makers try to shut it down, which leads the network to trigger a nuclear war in an effort to wipe out the species that it now sees as a threat. After the dust clears, Skynet creates an assortment of other robotic devices, including the Terminators, to hunt down and slaughter the remaining humans who stand in the way of its global supremacy. Skynet is so relentless that in the first film, it sends a robot portrayed by Schwarzenegger back in time in a fruitless effort to assassinate Sarah Connor, the mother of a future human rebel leader John Connor. In the 1991 sequel "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Skynet tries again, this time sending a more advanced Terminator with shape-shifting capabilities to kill the teenage version of John Connor [source: Westfahl].
One eerie thing about the "Terminator" saga is that it parallels the actual predictions of artificial intelligence visionary Ray Kurzweil, who says that in the next 50 years, machine intelligence will equal and then start to surpass human brainpower [source: Tucker].