Breaking Moore’s Law: Graphene Nanoribbons

^Ask a technician or a computer science major, and they will likely tell you that the next great leap in computing will only come once Moore’s Law is overcome. This law, which states that the number of transistors on a single chip doubles every 18 months to two years, is proceeding towards a bottleneck. For decades, CPUs and computer chips have been getting smaller, but they are fast approaching their physical limitations.

One of the central problems arising from the Moore’s Law bottleneck has to do with the materials we used to create microchips. Short of continued miniaturization, there is simply no way to keep placing more and more components on a microchip. And copper wires can only be miniaturized so much before they lose the ability to conduct electricity effectively.

graphene_ribbons1This has led scientists and engineers to propose that new materials be used, and graphene appears to be the current favorite. And researchers at the University of California at Berkeley are busy working on a form of so-called nanoribbon graphene that could increase the density of transistors on a computer chip by as much as 10,000 times.

Graphene, for those who don’t know, is a miracle material that is basically a sheet of carbon only one layer of atoms thick. This two-dimensional physical configuration gives it some incredible properties, like extreme electrical conductivity at room temperature. Researchers have been working on producing high quality sheets of the material, but nanoribbons ask more of science than it can currently deliver.

graphene_ribbonsWork on nanoribbons over the past decade has revolved around using lasers to carefully sculpt ribbons 10 or 20 atoms wide from larger sheets of graphene. On the scale of billionths of an inch, that calls for incredible precision. If the makers are even a few carbon atoms off, it can completely alter the properties of the ribbon, preventing it from working as a semiconductor at room temperature.

Alas, Berkeley chemist Felix Fischer thinks he might have found a solution. Rather than carving ribbons out of larger sheets like a sculptor, Fischer has begun creating nanoribbons from carbon atoms using a chemical process. Basically, he’s working on a new way to produce graphene that happens to already be in the right configuration for nanoribbons.

graphene-solarHe begins by synthesizing rings of carbon atoms similar in structure to benzene, then heats the molecules to encourage them to form a long chain. A second heating step strips away most of the hydrogen atoms, freeing up the carbon to form bonds in a honeycomb-like graphene structure. This process allows Fischer and his colleagues to control where each atom of carbon goes in the final nanoribbon.

On the scale Fischer is making them, graphene nanoribbons could be capable of transporting electrons thousands of times faster than a traditional copper conductor. They could also be packed very close together since a single ribbon is 1/10,000th the thickness of a human hair. Thus, if the process is perfected and scaled up, everything from CPUs to storage technology could be much faster and smaller.

Sources: extremetech.com

Cyberwars: NSA Building Quantum Computer

D-Wave's 128-qubit quantum processorAs documents that illustrate the NSA’s clandestine behavior continue to be leaked, the extents to which the agency has been going to gain supremacy over cyberspace are becoming ever more clear. Thanks to a new series of documents released by Snowden, it now seems that these efforts included two programs who’s purpose was to create a ““useful quantum computer” that would be capable of breaking all known forms of classical encryption.

According to the documents, which were published by The Washington Post earlier this month, there are at least two programs that deal with quantum computers and their use in breaking classical encryption — “Penetrating Hard Targets” and “Owning the Net.” The first program is funded to the tune of $79.7 million and includes efforts to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” that can:

sustain and enhance research operations at NSA/CSS Washington locations, including the Laboratory for Physical Sciences facility in College Park, MD.

nsa_aerialThe second program, Owning the Net, deals with developing new methods of intercepting communications, including the use of quantum computers to break encryption. Given the fact that quanutm machinery is considered the next great leap in computer science, offering unprecedented speed and the ability to conduct operations at many times the efficiency of normal computers, this should not come as a surprise.

Such a computer would give the NSA unprecedented access to encrypted files and communications, enadling them to break any protective cypher, access anyone’s data with ease, and mount cyber attacks with impunity. But a working model would also vital for defensive purposes. Much in the same way that the Cold War involved ongoing escalation between nuclear armament production, cybersecurity wars are also subject to constant one-upmanship.

quantum-computers-The-Next-GenerationIn short, if China, Russia, or some other potentially hostile power were to obtain a quantum computer before the US, all of its encrypted information would be laid bare. Under the circumstances, and given their mandate to protect the US’s infrastructure, data and people from harm, the NSA would much rather they come into possesion of one first. Hence why so much attention is dedicated to the issue, since whoever builds the worlds first quantum computer will enjoy full-court dominance for a time.

The mathematical, cryptographical, and quantum mechanical communities have long known that quantum computing should be able to crack classical encryption very easily. To crack RSA, the world’s prevailing cryptosystem, you need to be able to factor prime numbers — a task that is very difficult with a normal, classical-physics CPU, but might be very easy for a quantum computer. But of course, the emphasis is still very much on the word might, as no one has built a fully functioning multi-qubit quantum computer yet.

quantum-entanglement1As for when that might be, no one can say for sure. But the smart money is apparently anticipating one soon, since researchers are getting to the point where coherence on a single qubit-level is becoming feasible, allowing them to move on to the trickier subject of stringing multiple fully-entangled qubits together, as well as the necessary error checking/fault tolerance measures that go along with multi-qubit setups.

But from what it’s published so far, the Laboratory for Physical Sciences – which is carrying out the NSA’s quantum computing work under contract – doesn’t seem to be leading the pack in terms of building a quantum computer. In this respect, it’s IBM with its superconducting waveguide-cavity qubits that appears to be closer to realizing a quantum computer, with other major IT firms and their own supcomputer models not far behind.

hackers_securityDespite what this recent set of leaks demonstrates then, the public should take comfort in knowing that the NSA is not ahead of the rest of the industry. In reality, something like a working quantum computer would be so hugely significant that it would be impossible for the NSA to develop it internally and keep it a secret. And by the time the NSA does have a working quantum computer to intercept all of our encrypted data, they won’t be the only ones, which would ensure they lacked dominance in this field.

So really, thess latest leaks ought to not worry people too much, and instead should put the NSAs ongoing struggle to control cyberspace in perspective. One might go so far as to say that the NSA is trying to remain relevant in an age where they are becoming increasingly outmatched. With billions of terabytes traversing the globe on any given day and trillions of devices and sensors creating a “second skin” of information over the globe, no one organization is capable of controlling or monitoring it all.

So to those in the habit of dredging up 1984 every time they hear about the latest NSA and domestic surveillance scandal, I say: Suck on it, Big Brother!

Source: wired.com

The Future of Computing: Graphene Chips and Transistors

computer_chip4The basic law of computer evolution, known as Moore’s Law, teaches that within every two years, the number of transistors on a computer chip will double. What this means is that every couple of years, computer speeds will double, effectively making the previous technology obsolete. Recently, analysts have refined this period to about 18 months or less, as the rate of increase itself seems to be increasing.

This explosion in computing power is due to ongoing improvements in the field of miniaturization. As the component pieces get smaller and smaller, engineers are able to cram more and more of them onto chips of the same size. However, it does make one wonder just how far it will all go. Certainly there is a limit to how small things can get before they cease working.

GrapheneAccording to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), a standard which has been established by the industry’s top experts, that limit will be reached in 2015. By then, engineers will have reached the threshold of 22 nanometers, the limit of thickness before the copper wiring that currently connect the billions of transistors in a modern CPU or GPU will be made unworkable due to resistance and other mechanical issues.

However, recent revelations about the material known as graphene show that it is not hampered by the same mechanical restrictions. As such, it could theoretically be scaled down to the point where it is just a few nanometers, allowing for the creation of computer chips that are orders of magnitude more dense and powerful, while consuming less energy.

IBM-Graphene-ICBack in 2011, IBM built what it called the first graphene integrated circuit, but in truth, only some of the transistors and inductors were made of graphene while other standard components (like copper wiring) was still employed. But now, a team at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) have proposed the first all-graphene chip, where the transistors and interconnects are monolithically patterned on a single sheet of graphene.

In their research paper, “Proposal for all-graphene monolithic logic circuits,” the UCSB researchers say that:

[D]evices and interconnects can be built using the ‘same starting material’ — graphene… all-graphene circuits can surpass the static performances of the 22nm complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor devices.

graphene_transistormodelTo build an all-graphene IC (pictured here), the researchers propose using one of graphene’s interesting qualities, that depending on its thickness it behaves in different ways. Narrow ribbons of graphene are semiconducting, ideal for making transistors while wider ribbons are metallic, ideal for gates and interconnects.

For now, the UCSB team’s design is simply a computer model that should technically work, but which hasn’t been built yet. In theory, though, with the worldwide efforts to improve high-quality graphene production and patterning, it should only be a few years before an all-graphene integrated circuit is built. As for full-scale commercial production, that is likely to take a decade or so.

When that happens though, another explosive period of growth in computing speed, coupled with lower power consumption is to be expected. From there, subsequent leaps are likely to involve carbon nanotubes components, true quantum computing, and perhaps even biotechnological circuits. Oh the places it will all go!

Source: extremetech.com

The Birth of an Idea: The Computer Coat!

optical_computer1I’ve been thinking… which is not something novel for me, it just so happens that my thoughts have been a bit more focused lately. Specifically, I have an idea for an invention: something futuristic, practical, that could very well be part of our collective, computing future. With all the developments in the field of personal computing lately, and I my ongoing efforts to keep track of them, I hoped I might eventually come up with an idea of my own.

Consider, the growth in smartphones and personal digital assistants. In the last few years, we’ve seen companies produce working prototypes for paper-thin, flexible, and durable electronics. Then consider the growth in projection touchscreens, portable computing, and augmented reality. Could it be that there’s some middle ground here for something that incorporates all of the above?

Pranav Mistry 5Ever since I saw Pranav Mistry’s demonstration of a wearable computer that could interface with others, project its screen onto any surface, and be operated through simple gestures from the user, I’ve been looking for a way to work this into fiction. But in the years since Mistry talked to TED.com and showed off his “Sixth Sense Technology”, the possibilities have grown and been refined.

papertab-touchAnd then something happened. While at school, I noticed one of the kids wearing a jacket that had a hole near the lapel with a headphones icon above it. The little tunnel worked into the coat was designed to keep the chord to your iPod or phone safe and tucked away, and it got me thinking! Wires running through a coat, inset electrical gear, all the advancements made in the last few years. Who thinks about this kind of stuff, anyway? Who cares, it was the birth of an idea!

headphonesFor example, its no longer necessary to carry computer components that are big and bulky on your person. With thin, flexible electronics, much like the new Papertab, all the components one would need could be thin enough and flexible enough to be worked into the inlay of a coat. These could include the CPU, a wireless router, and a hard drive.

Paper-thin zinc batteries, also under development, could be worked into the coast as well, with a power cord connected to them so they could be jacked into a socket and recharged. And since they too are paper-thin, they could be expected to move and shift with the coat, along with all the other electronics, without fear of breakage or malfunction.

flexbatteryAnd of course, there would be the screen itself, via a small camera and projector in the collar, which could be placed and interfaced with on any flat surface. Or, forget the projector entirely and just connect the whole thing to a set of glasses. Google’s doing a good job on those, as is DARPA with their development of AR contact lenses. Either one will do in a pinch, and could be wirelessly or wired to the coat itself.

google_glass1Addendum: Shortly after publishing this, I realized that a power cord is totally unnecessary! Thanks to two key technologies, it could be possible to recharge the batteries using a combination of flexible graphene solar panels and some M13 peizoelectric virus packs. The former could be attached to the back, where they would be wired to the coats power system, and the M13 packs could be placed in the arms, where the user’s movement would be harnessed to generate electricity. Total self-sufficiency, baby!

powerbuttonAnd then how about a wrist segment where some basic controls, such as the power switch and a little screen are? This little screen could act as a prompt, telling you you have emails, texts, tweets, and updates available for download. Oh, and lets not forget a USB port, where you can plug in an external hard drive, flash drive, or just hook up to another computer.

So that’s my idea, in a nutshell. I plan to work it into my fiction at the first available opportunity, as I consider it an idea that hasn’t been proposed yet, not without freaky nanotech being involved! Look for it, and in the meantime, check out the video of Pranav Mistry on TED talks back in 2010 when he first proposed 6th Sense Tech. Oh, and just in case, you heard about the Computer Coat here first, patent pending!

IBM Creates First Photonic Microchip

optical_computer1For many years, optical computing has been a subject of great interest for engineers and researchers. As opposed to the current crop of computers which rely on the movement of electrons in and out of transistors to do logic, an optical computer relies on the movement of photons. Such a computer would confer obvious advantages, mainly in the realm of computing speed since photons travel much faster than electrical current.

While the concept and technology is relatively straightforward, no one has been able to develop photonic components that were commercially viable. All that changed this past December as IBM became the first company to integrate electrical and optical components on the same chip. As expected, when tested, this new chip was able to transmit data significantly faster than current state-of-the-art copper and optical networks.

ibm-silicon-nanophotonic-chip-copper-and-waveguidesBut what was surprising was just how fast the difference really was. Whereas current interconnects are generally measured in gigabits per second, IBM’s new chip is already capable of shuttling data around at terabits per second. In other words, over a thousand times faster than what we’re currently used to. And since it will be no big task or expense to replace the current generation of electrical components with photonic ones, we could be seeing this chip taking the place of our standard CPUs really soon!

This comes after a decade of research and an announcement made back in 2010, specifically that IBM Research was tackling the concept of silicon nanophotonics. And since they’ve proven they can create the chips commercially, they could be on the market within just a couple of years. This is certainly big news for supercomputing and the cloud, where limited bandwidth between servers is a major bottleneck for those with a need for speed!

internetCool as this is, there are actually two key breakthroughs to boast about here. First, IBM has managed to build a monolithic silicon chip that integrates both electrical (transistors, capacitors, resistors) and optical (modulators, photodetectors, waveguides) components. Monolithic means that the entire chip is fabricated from a single crystal of silicon on a single production line, and the optical and electrical components are mixed up together to form an integrated circuit.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, IBM was able to manufacture these chips using the same process they use to produce the CPUs for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. This was not easy, according to internal sources, but in so doing, they can produce this new chip using their standard manufacturing process, which will not only save them money in the long run, but make the conversion process that much cheaper and easier. From all outward indications, it seems that IBM spent most of the last two years trying to ensure that this aspect of the process would work.

Woman-Smashing-ComputerExcited yet? Or perhaps concerned that this boost in speed will mean even more competition and the need to constantly upgrade? Well, given the history of computing and technological progress, both of these sentiments would be right on the money. On the one hand, this development may herald all kinds of changes and possibilities for research and development, with breakthroughs coming within days and weeks instead of years.

At the same time, it could mean that rest of us will be even more hard pressed to keep our software and hardware current, which can be frustrating as hell. As it stands, Moore’s Law states that it takes between 18 months and two years for CPUs to double in speed. Now imagine that dwindling to just a few weeks, and you’ve got a whole new ballgame!

Source: Extremetech.com

Of Mechanical Minds

A few weeks back, a friend of mine, Nicola Higgins, directed me to an article about Google’s new neural net. Not only did she provide me with a damn interesting read, she also challenged me to write an article about the different types of robot brains. Well, Nicola, as Barny Stintson would say “Challenge Accepted!”And I got to say, it was a fun topic to get into.

After much research and plugging away at the lovely thing known as the internet (which was predicted by Vannevar Bush with his proposed Memor-Index system (aka. Memex) 50 years ago, btw) I managed to compile a list of the most historically relevant examples of mechanical minds, culminating in the development of Google’s Neural Net. Here we go..

Earliest Examples:
Even in ancient times, the concept of automata and arithmetic machinery can be found in certain cultures. In the Near East, the Arab World, and as far East as China, historians have found examples of primitive machinery that was designed to perform one task or another. And even though few specimens survive, there are even examples of machines that could perform complex mathematical calculations…

Antikythera mechanism:
Invented in ancient Greece, and recovered in 1901 on the ship that bears the same name, the Antikythera is the world’s oldest known analog calculator, invented to calculate the positions of the heavens for ancient astronomers. However, it was not until a century later that its true complexity and significance would be fully understood. Having been built in the 1st century BCE, it would not be until the 14th century CE that machines of its complexity would be built again.

Although it is widely theorized that this “clock of the heavens” must have had several predecessors during the Hellenistic Period, it remains the oldest surviving analog computer in existence. After collecting all the surviving pieces, scientists were able to reconstruct the design (pictured at right), which essentially amounted to a large box of interconnecting gears.

Pascaline:
Otherwise known as the Arithmetic Machine and Pascale Calculator, this device was invented by French mathematician Blaise Pascal in 1642 and is the first known example of a mechanized mathematical calculator. Apparently, Pascale invented this device to help his father reorganize the tax revenues of the French province of Haute-Normandie, and went on to create 50 prototypes before he was satisfied.

Of those 50, nine survive and are currently on display in various European museums. In addition to giving his father a helping hand, its introduction launched the development of mechanical calculators all over Europe and then the world. It’s invention is also directly linked to the development of the microprocessing circuit roughly three centuries later, which in turn is what led to the development of PC’s and embedded systems.

The Industrial Revolution:
With the rise of machine production, computational technology would see a number of developments. Key to all of this was the emergence of the concept of automation and the rationalization of society. Between the 18th and late 19th centuries, as every aspect of western society came to be organized and regimented based on the idea of regular production, machines needed to be developed that could handle this task of crunching numbers and storing the results.

Jacquard Loom:
Invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard, a French weaver and merchant, in 1801, the Loom that bears his name is the first programmable machine in history, which relied on punch cards to input orders and turn out textiles of various patterns. Thought it was based on earlier inventions by Basile Bouchon (1725), Jean Baptiste Falcon (1728) and Jacques Vaucanson (1740), it remains the most well-known example of a programmable loom and the earliest machine that was controlled through punch cards.

Though the Loom was did not perform computations, the design was nevertheless an important step in the development of computer hardware. Charles Babbage would use many of its features to design his Analytical Engine (see next example) and the use of punch cards would remain a stable in the computing industry well into the 20th century until the development of the microprocessor.

Analytical Engine:
Also known as the “Difference Engine”, this concept was originally proposed by English Mathematician Charles Babbage. Beginning in 1822 Babbage began contemplating designs for a machine that would be capable of automating the process of creating error free tables, which arose out of difficulties encountered by teams of mathematicians who were attempting to do it by hand.

Though he was never able to complete construction of a finished product, due to apparent difficulties with the chief engineer and funding shortages, his proposed engine incorporated an arithmetical unit, control flow in the form of conditional branching and loops, and integrated memory, making it the first Turing-complete design for a general-purpose computer. His various trial models (like that featured at left) are currently on display in the Science Museum in London, England.

The Birth of Modern Computing:
The early 20th century saw the rise of several new developments, many of which would play a key role in the development of modern computers. The use of electricity for industrial applications was foremost, with all computers from this point forward being powered by Alternating and/or Direct Current and even using it to store information. At the same time, older ideas would be remain in use but become refined, most notably the use of punch cards and tape to read instructions and store results.

Tabulating Machine:
The next development in computation came roughly 70 years later when Herman Hollerith, an American statistician, developed a “tabulator” to help him process information from the 1890 US Census. In addition to being the first electronic computational device designed to assist in summarizing information (and later, accounting), it also went on to spawn the entire data processing industry.

Six years after the 1890 Census, Hollerith formed his own company known as the Tabulating Machine Company that was responsible for creating machines that could tabulate info based on punch cards. In 1924, after several mergers and consolidations, Hollerith’c company was renamed International Business Machines (IBM), which would go on to build the first “supercomputer” for Columbia University in 1931.

Atanasoff–Berry Computer:
Next, we have the ABC, the first electronic digital computing device in the world. Conceived in 1937, the ABC shares several characteristics with its predecessors, not the least of which is the fact that it is electrically powered and relied on punch cards to store data. However, unlike its predecessors, it was the first machine to use digital symbols to compute and was the first computer to use vacuum tube technology

These additions allowed the ABC to acheive computational speeds that were previously thought impossible for a mechanical computer. However, the machine was limited in that it could only solve systems of linear equations, and its punch card system of storage was deemed unreliable. Work on the machine also stopped when it’s inventor John Vincent Atanasoff was called off to assist in World War II cryptographic assignments. Nevertheless, the machine remains an important milestone in the development of modern computers.

Colossus:
There’s something to be said about war being the engine of innovation. The Colossus is certainly no stranger to this rule, the machine used to break German codes in the Second World War. Due to the secrecy surrounding it, it would not have much of an influence on computing and would not be rediscovered until the 1990’s. Still, it represents a step in the development of computing, as it relied on vacuum tube technology and punch tape in order to perform calculations, and proved most adept at solving complex mathematical computations.

Originally conceived by Max Newman, the British mathematician who was chiefly responsible fore breaking German codes in Bletchley Park during the war, the machine was a proposed means of combatting the German Lorenz machine, which the Nazis used to encode all of their wireless transmissions. With the first model built in 1943, ten variants of the machine for the Allies before war’s end and were intrinsic in bringing down the Nazi war machine.

Harvard Mark I:
Also known as the “IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC)”, the Mark I was an electro-mechanical computer that was devised by Howard H. Aiken, built by IBM, and officially presented to Harvard University in 1944. Due to its success at performing long, complex calculations, it inspired several successors, most of which were used by the US Navy and Air Force for the purpose of running computations.

According to IBM’s own archives, the Mark I was the first computer that could execute long computations automatically. Built within a steel frame 51 feet (16 m) long and eight feet high, and using 500 miles (800 km) of wire with three million connections, it was the industry’s largest electromechanical calculator and the largest computer of its day.

Manchester SSEM:
Nicknamed “Baby”, the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) was developed in 1948 and was the world’s first computer to incorporate stored-program architecture.Whereas previous computers relied on punch tape or cards to store calculations and results, “Baby” was able to do this electronically.

Although its abilities were still modest – with a 32-bit word length, a memory of 32 words, and only capable of performing subtraction and negation without additional software – it was still revolutionary for its time. In addition, the SSEM also had the distinction of being the result of Alan Turing’s own work – another British crytographer who’s theories on the “Turing Machine” and development of the algorithm would form the basis of modern computer technology.

The Nuclear Age to the Digital Age:
With the end of World War II and the birth of the Nuclear Age, technology once again took several explosive leaps forward. This could be seen in the realm of computer technology as well, where wartime developments and commercial applications grew by leaps and bounds. In addition to processor speeds and stored memory multiplying expontentially every few years, the overall size of computers got smaller and smaller. This, some theorized would lead to the development of computers that were perfectly portable and smart enough to pass the “Turing Test”. Imagine!

IBM 7090:
The 7090 model which was released in 1959, is often referred to as a third generation computer because, unlike its predecessors which were either electormechanical  or used vacuum tubes, this machine relied transistors to conduct its computations. In addition, it was an improvement on earlier models in that it used a 36-bit word length and could store up to 32K (32,768) words, a modest increase in processing over the SSEM, but a ten thousand-fold increase in terms of storage capacity.

And of course, these improvements were mirrored in the fact the 7090 series were also significantly smaller than previous versions, being about the size of a desk rather than an entire room. They were also cheaper and were quite popular with NASA, Caltech and MIT.

PDP-8:
In keeping with the trend towards miniaturization, 1965 saw the development of the first commercial minicomputer by the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Though large by modern standards (about the size of a minibar) the PDP-8, also known as the “Straight-8”, was a major improvement over previous models, and therefore a commercial success.

In addition, later models also incorporated advanced concepts like the Real-Time Operating System and preemptive multitasking. Unfortunately, early models still relied on paper tape in order to process information. It was not until later that the computer was upgraded to take advantage of controlling language  such as FORTRAN, BASIC, and DIBOL.

Intel 4004:
Founded in California in 1968, the Intel Corporation quickly moved to the forefront of computational hardware development with the creation of the 4004, the worlds first Central Processing Unit, in 1971. Continuing the trend towards smaller computers, the development of this internal processor paved the way for personal computers, desktops, and laptops.

Incorporating the then-new silicon gate technology, Intel was able to create a processor that allowed for a higher number of transistors and therefore a faster processing speed than ever possible before. On top of all that, they were able to pack in into a much smaller frame, which ensured that computers built with the new CPU would be smaller, cheaper and more ergonomic. Thereafter, Intel would be a leading designer of integrated circuits and processors, supplanting even giants like IBM.

Apple I:
The 60’s and 70’s seemed to be a time for the birthing of future giants. Less than a decade after the first CPU was created, another upstart came along with an equally significant development. Named Apple and started by three men in 1976 – Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne – the first product to be marketed was a “personal computer” (PC) which Wozniak built himself.

One of the most distinctive features of the Apple I was the fact that it had a built-in keyboard. Competing models of the day, such as the Altair 8800, required a hardware extension to allow connection to a computer terminal or a teletypewriter machine. The company quickly took off and began introducing an upgraded version (the Apple II) just a year later. As a result, Apple I’s remain a scarce commodity and very valuable collector’s item.

The Future:
The last two decades of the 20th century also saw far more than its fair of developments. From the CPU and the PC came desktop computers, laptop computers, PDA’s, tablet PC’s, and networked computers. This last creation, aka. the Internet, was the greatest leap by far, allowing computers from all over the world to be networked together and share information. And with the exponential increase in information sharing that occurred as a result, many believe that it’s only a matter of time before wearable computers, fully portable computers, and artificial intelligences are possible. Ah, which brings me to the last entry in this list…

The Google Neural Network:
googleneuralnetworkFrom mechanical dials to vacuum tubes, from CPU’s to PC’s and laptops, computer’s have come a hell of a long way since the days of Ancient Greece. Hell, even within the last century, the growth in this one area of technology has been explosive, leading some to conclude that it was just a matter of time before we created a machine that was capable of thinking all on its own.

Well, my friends, that day appears to have dawned. Already, Nicola and myself blogged about this development, so I shan’t waste time going over it again. Suffice it to say, this new program, which thus far has been able to identify pictures of cats at random, contains the necessary neural capacity to acheive 1/1000th of what the human brain is capable of. Sounds small, but given the exponential growth in computing, it won’t be long before that gap is narrowed substantially.

Who knows what else the future will hold?  Optical computers that use not electrons but photons to move information about? Quantum computers, capable of connecting machines not only across space, but also time? Biocomputers that can be encoded directly into our bodies through our mitochondrial DNA? Oh, the possibilities…

Creating machines in the likeness of the human mind. Oh Brave New World that hath such machinery in it. Cool… yet scary!

The Future is Here: The Google Neural Net!

I came across a recent story at BBC News, one which makes me both hopeful and fearful. It seems that a team of researchers, working for Google, have completed work on an artificial neural net that is capable of recognizing pictures of cats. Designed and built to mimic the human brain, this may very well be the first instance where a computer was capable of exercising the faculty of autonomous reasoning – the very thing that we humans are so proud (and jealous) of!

The revolutionary new system was a collaborative effort between Google’s X Labs division and Professor Andrew Ng of the AI Lab at Standford University, California. As opposed to image recognition software, which tells computers to look for specific features in a target picture before being presented with it, the Google machine knew nothing about the images in advance. Instead, it relied on its 16,000 processing cores to run software that simulated the workings of a biological neural network with about one billion connections.

Now, according to various estimates, the human cerebral cortex contains at least 1010 neurons linked by 1014 synaptic connections – or in lay terms, 10 trillions neurons with roughly 1 quadrillion connections. That means this artificial brain has one one thousandth the complexity of the organic, human one. Not quite as complex, but it’s a start… A BIG start really!

For decades – hell, even centuries and millennia – human beings have contemplated what it would take to make an autonomous automaton. Even with all the growth in computer’s processing speed and storage, the question of how to make the leap between a smart machine and a truly “intelligent” one has remained a tricky one. Judging from all the speculation and representations in fiction, everyone seemed to surmise that some sort of artificial neural net would be involved, something that could mimic the process of forming connections, encoding experiences into a physical (i.e. digital) form, and expanding based on ongoing learning.

Naturally, Google has plans for an application using this new system. Apparently, the company is hoping that it will help them with its indexing systems and with language translation.  Giving the new guy the boring jobs, huh? I wonder what’s going to happen when the newer, smarter models start coming out? Yeah, I can foresee new generations emerging over time, much as new generations of iPods with larger and larger storage capacities have been coming out every year for the past decade. Or, like faster and faster CPU’s from the past three decades. Yes, this could very well represent the next great technological race, as foreseen by such men as Eliezer Yudkowsky, Nick Bostrom, and Ray Kurzweil.

In short, Futurists will rejoice, Alarmists will be afraid, and science fiction writers will exploit it for all its worth! Until next time, keep your eyes peeled for any red-eyed robots. That seems to be the first warning sign of impending robocalypse!

T2!

Normally, if I do a review, I try to re-familiarize myself with the material before writing about it. That way I’ll be sure not miss anything. It’s only been on occasion that I’ve done one strictly from memory, and that’s assuming it’s still fresh. That was certainly the case with Independence Day and Terminator: Salvation, the latter I had seen just a few weeks before, and the former I’d seen so many times that I really didn’t need to see it again! However, this was not the case with The Terminator. Here was a movie I had not seen in years. Make that MANY years, and yet I penned my review almost entirely from what I could remember of it. Not smart! Even less smart to watch it immediately thereafter and realize all the points I missed! Luckily, I still have two more movies to do in the franchise, and most of what I noticed applies directly to the sequel!

First off, James Cameron was guilty of recycling actors even more than I thought. Michael Beihn, Bill Paxton, and Jennette Goldstein all played prominent roles in Aliens (Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez) and were around for either T1 or T2, in some cases, both. But I forgot about Lance Henrikson, the man who played Bishop in Aliens. Turns out, he played one of the LA detectives in the first movie who got his ass shot off when evil Arny came knocking! Wish I hadn’t glossed over those guys in my T1 review, turns out they were actually pretty important. In any case, that makes four actors whom he used for both franchises, and I’m betting there were more in the background somewhere…

On top of that, I came to see just how many action sequences were reused in T2. I don’t want to get too specific just yet, but let’s say that action scenes involving motor bikes, big-rigs, car jumping and pile ups were also reused from the first movie. The only real difference was the budget, and of course Arny was now a protagonist instead of a force of pure malevolence. And there was also one all-important theme that made it into both Aliens and T2, and that was the theme of reconciliation between man and woman and humans and machines! But more on that later. Having just watched the movie and it still fresh in my mind, let’s get to the specifics of T2, one of the biggest and most successful sequels of all time!

(Background—>)
T2 was generally lauded by critics, all of whom thought that Arny did a great job reprising the role that complimented his particular brand of talents (his natural grandeur and presence, for example). Cameron’s gift for action direction was also seen as a big plus, and with three successful movies under his belt (T1, Aliens, and The Abyss), he now had a bigger budget and a degree of creative freedom he did not have with the before. And as I said in my first Terminator review, T2 also did better at the box office, not proportionally speaking, but certainly in terms of overall gross. And according to some, it was one of those rare movies that was believed to be better than the original. I’m not one of them, but I can certainly see why others might think so. On the whole, T2 was bigger, glitzier, and a lot more fun than the first. It’s mass appeal, made possible by its awesome action sequences, intense pace, and cutting-edge special effects which involved the use of CGI (something brand-new at the time) were sure to please. It also did a good job of wrapping up the temporal paradox presented in the first movie, and offered a way out of said paradox that was both believable and consistent with it. It may not have been as gritty, realistic or smart as the original, but that was to be expected. Originals are meant to set the tone and establish the parameters, sequels to expand on them. And in that respect, T2 was a fitting follow-up to the first, superior in some respects but certainly not better.

(Content—>)
The movie opens with scenes from modern day LA, moving from traffic jams and pedestrian crossings to a playground with children at play. This is clearly a “before” scene, where the music is foreboding and things suddenly slow down, with the sound of children laughing in the background. And then, the big white out. If this isn’t indication enough that something terrible has happened, we immediately cut to the “after” scene – a blackened ruin littered with skeletons and rubble. We are told that is what Los Angeles looks like in 2029, cold, dark, and dead. Linda Hamilton’s voice over then reminds us of the relevant facts, how billions died on Aug. 29th 1997 (“Judgement Day”), and those who survived lived only to face a worse horror… the war against the machines. We then get a moment of pure symbolism as a machine foot crushes a human skull, followed immediately thereafter by one of pure action porn!

All over the post-apocalyptic landscape, machines are attacking, purple tracers fill the sky, and human resistance fighters mobilize to fight back. This sequence was certainly superior to the ones in the first movie. There, the post-apocalyptic battle scenes involved just a few people and models, fighting in a limited fashion that gave the impression of guerrilla-warfare rather than an epic confrontation. In T2, there were literally hundreds of people and models being used, and the pace and scale was faster and bigger. The humans aren’t hiding here, they are out in full force, fighting, dying, shooting and killing. This gives the impression of a genuine war: ugly, awesome, and epic! Naturally, this was due to budgets, but that doesn’t change the fact that T2’s opening action sequence was far more kick-ass! We even get a shot of John Conner, the future version. He’s grizzly, determined, and surveying the field while his mother continues to let us in on things: Years back, a Terminator was sent back in time to kill her before she could give birth to this illustrious man – who is looking mighty heroic right now – and failed. Now, another one is on the way, hoping to strike at Conner himself. But the resistance has sent another warrior, and only time will tell which one reaches him first…

And, much like in the first movie, we cut back and forth between three points of view: Arny, the T1000 (played by Robert Patrick), and the main protagonists – in this case, John and Sarah. She’s in an insane asylum. The character of Doctor Silberman (Earl Boen), who in the first movie pronounced Kyle Reese insane, is back and saying the same thing about her. John is in foster care, is clearly disillusioned over the fact that his mother is locked up, and chooses to take it out on his foster parents. That’s an immediate selling point to this movie: the idea that anyone who knew the future would be a Cassandra, shouting to the wilderness and being totally ignored by the people (or in this case, committed). Conner’s delinquency is also a realistic touch. We know he will grow up to a hero someday, but right now, he’s a pissed-off adolescent who’s confused and bewildered. On the one hand, he hates his mother for apparently lying to him for so many years, and on the other he obviously misses her. Remember that photo he gave Kyle Reese, the one she had taken of herself at the end of the first movie? Well, turns out he’s kept it. Must be some embers still left in that hearth, huh?

Anyway, Arny has his scene where he wanders into a biker bar naked and wrecks the place up in order to get his hands on some badass looking clothes and a Harley. This is of course a retake from the first movie, but unlike the first where the evil Arny killed to get them, the good Arny in this one merely brutalizes a few people. Yep, this is the good guy… baby-steps I guess! And just like in the first movie, the bad guy has an easier time, simply killing a police officer and then commandeering his vehicle. Turns out when you’ve got liquid metal for skin, you don’t need clothes. You just morph your surface layer and boom, you’re good to go! But alas, the T1000 (as Arny explains later) cannot form complex machines, so he still needs the policeman’s car and weapons.

The three finally meet and, just like in the first, we get a tense, climactic moment with slow-motion and intense music. John sees Arny as he pulls his shotgun out of a box of roses (product placement, Guns and Roses did the theme music!) and thinks he’s out to kill him. But those fears are generally allayed when Arny levels the gun and yells his famous tagline, “Get down!”, and shoots the T1000 behind him. A gun fight ensues, followed by a wrestling match, followed by a big-ass car chase. Again, elements of the first are at work here again. In T1, Arny was chasing Sarah and Kyle on a Harley, followed shortly thereafter by a truck. Much like in the first, it all ends with the truck crashing and exploding. This is not to say that it wasn’t awesome this time around though. As usual, Cameron’s flare for action-direction makes the scene tense and beautiful, and the way Arny keeps flipping that gun around to reload it? You look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t think that was badass the first time you saw it! And of course, the sequence ends with the T1000 walking from the fiery wreckage unharmed, provided by some of those cutting-edge digital effects I mentioned!

John then has a chat with Arny about what’s going on. Some funny lines here: “Don’t take this the wrong way but… you’re a Terminator, right?” Keen grasp of the obvious. “Okay… And you’re not here to kill me! I figured that part out for myself!” Well he did save your as several times in just the last few minutes so… duh! What makes this funny is that while freaked out, John clearly has a framework in place for understanding what’s going on. In spite of the fact that he’s spent the last few years thinking his mom was crazy, he still remembers everything she taught and what he’s just witnessed just confirmed it. Sure he’s freaked out by all the violence and near-death, but one he’s not is shocked. He doesn’t even get that phased when Arny tells him that it was HIM – John Conner – who sent him; his future self, that is. Somehow, it all just makes sense given his upbringing. And of course, Arny takes the time to explain the particulars of their enemy. Let me see if I can condense it all into a few bullet points here:
> T1000, advanced prototype, liquid metal, here to kill you.
> Can’t form weapons beyond knives and stabbing tools.
> Can also morph into things, but only things of equal size
> Can impersonate other people and knows where you will go
> Oh yeah, and its not known if he can be destroyed or not

Yikes! That’s another thing that I enjoyed about this movie. At first, it seems like Arny can defeat the T1000 as he manages to save John Conner from his repeated murderous attempts. However, as more confrontations ensue and Arny is forced to go toe to toe with him, the T1000 begins to show his superiority. Not only does he managed to take Arny’s arm off, he even manages to take Arny out. Well, temporarily deactivate, but you get the idea. In the end, Anry’s only able to win by outsmarting him, and relying on the help of John and Sarah.

But getting back to the storyline, Arny soon confirms that the T1000 has already killed John’s foster parents and warns him that his mother could be next. But not before John has an expository scene where he expresses all his angst over how his mother taught him everything he knew, only to be taken away from him and declared a delusional psychotic. And now, it appears she was right all along, so naturally he wants to find her. But no, Arny reminds him, the T1000 would have anticipated that, and will try to impersonate her and will kill her in the process. John freaks, a ruckus ensues, and it ends with John realizing that Arny must obey his orders. So naturally, he orders Arny to help him save his mother (Oh, and not to kill anyone, on a count of he almost killed two people during that ruckus).

They then get to the asylum where Sarah is attempting to make her escape. Seems people told her that a dead-ringer for the man that shot up a police station and killed 17 officers in 84′ was spotted at a local mall. Thus why she needs to escape tonight. If things are happening again, she needs to make sure her son is safe! She does this smashing the face of the guy who’s been physically and sexually abusing her for the last few months and taking Dr. Silberman hostage. Naturally, we don’t feel sorry for either of these people, since the attendee is a dick and Dr. Silberman is a cynical douche! John and Arny are simultaneously breaking in, which begins with Arny knee-capping the guard at the front (he said he wouldn’t kill, wasn’t nothing in there about knee-capping!) They meet up inside as Arny steps off the elevator right in front of her, and a slow-motion scene ensues where Sarah recognizes him and becomes so terrified that she runs back in the direction of the guards she eluded not a moment previous. Arny saves her and issues one the tag-lines from the first movie: “Come with me if you want to live”. John is also there and lets just her know that Arny’s cool, right before the T1000 shows up right behind them and tries to kill them. Dr. Silberman witnesses all this, and is no doubt going to need therapy himself!

Another chase scene ensues. Arny and Sarah protect John, steal a police car, and start driving backwards while shooting. The T1000, for his part, sprouts swords and crowbars from his arms and pursues them. Here too we see a scene being rehashed from the first movie, where the evil Terminator jumps on their car and starts smashing through the window, trying to get his hands on his target and almost succeeding. But in the nick of time, they manage to shake him with some keen maneuvering and shotgun blasts. This time around, its Arny who does the rescuing, blowing off one of the T1000’s limbs and sending him flying off the back end of their car. Having made it away for the second time, the three of them start make their way out of town in great haste.

While in the desert, we get some pacing scenes as Arny, Sarah Conner, and John get to talking, and in the course things, learn some things about each other. For example, Sarah wants to know how Judgement Day happened, how Skynet was created and who’s responsible. Arny reveals that a man named Mr. Miles Dyson is responsible for the breakthroughs that led to Skynet’s creation, and that the key developments are happening pretty much as they speak. We already know from a rather telling scene earlier that Mr. Dyson, over at Cyberdyne systems, was the recipient of the remains of the first Terminator and is working on a big AI-related breakthrough. Seems that Conner was right, that someone conspired to remove them from the factory where Sarah left them, and made sure they got into the “right” hands. Sounds… conspiratorial! In any case, it was the first Terminator’s broken CPU and remaining arm, which came from the future, that ended up being the basis for Dyson’s research, and hence Skynet’s creation… The temporal paradox strikes again!

There are echoes of Alien and Aliens here. In those movies, the megacorp Weylan-Yutani kept screwing over its own people in order to get their hands on the alien specimen. Here, however, we are getting it more in the form of the dark future/cautionary tale, where networked, intelligent computers are responsible for nearly wiping out humanity, largely because we made the mistake of trusting our fate to them. But unlike the first movie, T2 introduces us to the human side of that equation, how it was human avarice that led to Skynet’s creation, and how Skynet decided to kill humanity because they tried to pull the plug on it. Doesn’t make Skynet any nicer, but it was a nice touch, as is the humanizing of the people responsible which follows later on. But at the moment, Sarah is obviously perturbed by this information, and we can tell she’s going to do something about it very soon…

Also, there’s a very important scene in all this that didn’t make it into the original movie but came with the director’s cut. This is the scene where Arny reveals that all Terminators have their CPU’s set to “read-only” when they are sent out, a provision against them exercising too much independent thought. While they are held up in an abandoned garage and nursing their wounds, John proposes that they remove Arny’s chip and switch this fail-safe off so he can be of more use to them. After removing it, Sarah tries to smash the chip with a hammer but John stops her. She tells him this could be their last chance to be “it”, and that John doesn’t understand this because he’s never had to kill one of them. But John insists that they need Arny, that “it” is a “he”, and that if he’s to be a great leader someday, his mom ought to start taking his ideas seriously. She decides to go with him, although just barely, and lets Arny live. This scene is important because it establishes that in spite of the fact that the good Arny saved them, Sarah still doesn’t trust him and is willing to kill him as soon as the opportunity arose. One would expect this considering what the first Arny bot put her through.

There’s also the amusing scene where John tries to teach Arny to smile. This is just one of many where John is trying to teach him how to “be more human”. Most of these are pretty cheesy, consisting of one-liners and hand gestures, but this one was actually funny and even made sense in the overall context of the movie. Later, we see Arny pulling facial expressions, and the more anal-retentive critic would surely want to point out that this is supposed to impossible. Cyborg’s don’t feel emotion, hence they don’t smile, smirk, or shrug. The subtleties of facial expressions and how they convey emotions would surely be beyond them. But, if they knew someone was teaching them what faces to pull and when, they just might find it realistic and shut the hell up!

Anyhoo, John, Arny and Sarah show up at Enrique’s hideout. This would be the former Green Beret gun-running dude John mentioned with earlier, one of several dude’s she shacked up with while he was growing up. While at Enrique’s hideout, they start stockpiling guns and getting some new vehicles together. Arny gives us a preview of things to come when he hoists up the mini-gun and smirks at John. “It’s you, definitely,” John says. And in the course of things, Sarah watches her son and the Terminator talking and carrying on and has a revelation. Turns out that of all the father figures that had come and gone, the Terminator is actually the most ideal father figure for John. He’d never neglect him, never abuse him, and would die to protect him. We see at last a reconciliation between humanity and technology with this, not unlike the one that took place in Aliens between Bishop and Ripley. Once again, James Cameron is showing his fondness for certain themes. Still, it works here. After all the paranoia and hatred Sarah has been living with over the years, she finds herself finally able to trust her enemy – a killing machine – with John’s life. Irony!

But then, Sarah has another one of her apocalyptic dreams, and this one is particularly graphic! She even sees an alternate version of herself playing with a baby. This is a particularly symbolic moment, we get the impression is seeing what she’d look like if history had worked out just a little different. And like everyone in the playground, she doesn’t appear to be able to hear Sarah as she screams at them to run. In any case, they are all vaporized when a nuke goes off in the distance, graphically! I tell ya, that shot scared me when I first saw it. I believe it was the first case of the effects of a nuclear blast being caught on film. Sarah then wakes up with a start and she sees the words that she herself carved in the picnic table not a moment earlier. “No Fate”, which paraphrases what John told Reese to tell her: “The future is not set, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” Ironic, given the temporal nature of the story, but it certainly convinces Sarah that its time she acts. She grabs her guns, a truck, and tells John and Arny she will meet them later. It doesn’t take long for them to figure out what she’s got in mind (killing Dyson) and they head off to intercept her. Arny warns John that this is bad strategy, that the T1000 could anticipate this move, and that Dyson’s death might actually prevent Judgement Day. But of course, John tells him they have to. It’s a human thing!

They arrive at Dyson’s just in time to find that Sarah has shot up the place, put a bullet through Dyson’s shoulder and just about to deliver the coup de grace. But alas, she couldn’t. He’s still human, and she’s not a monster. So instead, they decide to fill him in on things and give him the benefit of the knowing everything his work will lead to. Arny starts by pealing the flesh off his arm and letting his robot innards tell the story. Dyson immediately recognizes the arm, since he’s got an identical one at his office. We get the distinct impression that some pretty messed up possibilities are going through his mind. In any case, Arny has his full attention now and he tells him to “listen to me very carefully.” Sarah’s voice-over fills in the rest and says that Arny told him everything – about Skynet, Judgement Day, and the war – as we cut to what is clearly several hours later. Naturally, he’s shocked and professes that he never intended for any of that to happen, but Sarah is naturally unconvinced. Seems “men like him” are the reason the hydrogen bomb exists. They think themselves creative, but only know how to create death and destruction, so fuck em, they’re evil! Uh, remind me now, who shot up who’s place here in a homicidal attempt? But alas, because he didn’t know, and maybe to prove he’s not a bad guy, he agrees to help them, which includes destroying the lab and also the remains of the first Terminator. Hello! This is the first time those remains have even been publicly acknowledged. Everyone is surprised, except Sarah who is both feels both angry and vindicated. She’s known all along that there was some kind of cover-up and nobody believed her. Now, she’s hearing from the horses mouth that she right. Still, right or no, she still gotta feel pissed!

What follows is another tense series of scenes as they rush to Cyberdyne, commandeer the facility, and begin laying explosives. Meanwhile, the police show up, thinking they got the man who shot up the police station back in 84′, and cordon off the building. Sarah’s voiceover and a shot of them driving up a dark highway convey the significance of these scenes perfectly before they actually unfold. Essentially, after years of trying to ensure that the machine’s didn’t alter the future, they are now trying to do the same. Whereas they were just players before, doing what was required of them, they are now free-agents who have the power to change history. Arny has his scene with the minigun too where he levels all the cop cars out front, firing a couple thousand rounds and a handful of grenades into the police cruisers to gives Sarah, John and Dyson the time they need to finish rigging the place to blow. But, as promised, does so without hurting or killing a single person. Not bad, Arny! Way to respect human life! Of course, the police are pissed and start firing back at him, and their SWAT team goes on in with blood on their minds.

There’s also what appears to be a sort of reconciliation taking place between Sarah and Dyson now, paralleling once again what Ripley experienced in Aliens. Obviously, Sarah had become embittered towards her male counterparts after years of being ignored and condemned by them. After losing Reese, she wasn’t able to find a single stable father figure for John, not one who would stick around after she told him the truth at any rate. Then there were all those who condemned her and put her in an insane asylum. On top of that, there’s men like Dyson who were responsible for Skynet’s creation in the first place. But now, she and Dyson appear to be coming together thanks to their common cause. There’s even a symbolic moment where Sarah passes him the detonator and we get a close-up of it changes hands. This reconciliation is cut short however when about a dozen SWAT team members comes breaking in and fills Dyson full of holes! But once they realize the place is totally rigged, they pull back! And the three protagonists managed to make it out right before the bomb goes off and levels Cyberdyne! But the front door is still blocked and there’s no way they can make it out without some shooting. That’s when Arny issues his famous tag-line from the first movie: “I’ll be back”! He gets about a hundred bullets to his face before knee-capping and pelting all the SWAT team members with their own tear gas canisters. He then steals the SWAT van and drives it through the front foyer, thus ensuring their escape. Meanwhile, the T1000 has shown up and steals a helicopter, much as Arny stole that 18-wheeler in movie one, and is even sure to include the “get out!” tag-line to its driver.

Which brings us to chase number three! This time, the good guys are in a SWAT van and the bad guy in a helicopter. True to the first movie, there’s a change-up when the bad guy is shmucked and has to switch vehicles. Having lost his helicopter, he commandeers (what else?) an 18-wheeler and chases them into a Foundry. Really? They have Foundries in LA? Right beside of the highway to boot? Just asking… Point is, more action porn follows: Arny delivers his “Hasta la Vista, Baby” line and shatters the T1000 with a bullet. This was after he forced him to crash his truck that was apparently carrying liquid nitrogen (…really?). The bits begin to melt because there’s hot metal all around (Foundry, remember?), and the three protagonists are forced to flee again. But with nowhere to run, they have to fight it out inside the Foundry, and get pretty beat up in the process! As a climactic scene, this was quite effective, being in such a hostile environment and everyone already being wounded. You can feel the tension and danger, which is made all the more palatable since it’s clear that there is no chance of escape. With Sarah already reeling from a gunshot wound in her thigh, and Arny twisted up from the crash, it really seems like they might not make it.

And yet, they do! And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the last scene where Linda Hamilton empties a whole shotgun into the T1000’s body, one-handed! Or how Arny shows up at the last second and pops a rocket propelled grenade into his belly that blows him in half! The T1000 then falls to his death in a bath of molten metal (how’s that for irony, liquid metal man!) and things end tidily when John realizes that the metal will make a perfect disposal spot for the remains of the first Terminator. But alas, Arny realizes that he too much go into the cauldron. As long as any evidence of the future remains in the past, there will always be a chance that Skynet could still be created and Judgement Day still happen. And so the movie ends with Arny being heroically lowered into the molten metal and giving John the thumbs up before disappearing beneath the surface (John taught him how to do that, which makes it all the more sad!)

Then, there’s the very last scene, which is kind of a controversial issue for me! In the original movie, it took the form of them driving along the dark highway again, a clear metaphor for the future, with Sarah giving jer final voice-over that wraps things up nicely. She says she is finally able to face the future with hope because, as she says, “If a machine – a Terminator – can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too…” Cue music and roll credits! I get tingly just thinking about it. But in the director’s cut, the last scene was altogether different. Instead of the still uncertain but hopeful future, we get to see the picture of that future, and its totally disappointing! Apparently, its 2030 or so, Judgment Day came and went without incident, and Sarah is making another recording where she explains how she got drunk and celebrated the fact that it never came. Everyday thereafter was a gift (a line that would make it into T3). And now, she’s sitting on a park bench and watching John play with her grand daughter in that same old playground. The background shows LA of the future, a skyline that looks like something out of a bad sci-fi movie or a rerun of Star Trek (the original version). Oh, and apparently John is not the grizzled leader here, but a Congressman who fights the good fight on the floor’s of Congress.

Where do I begin? Well, for starters, this whole franchise was gritty and dark and never did more than it had to. So ending it with a scene that lays things on way too thick just seems inappropriate. There’s also the fact that its totally sappy! John becomes a peacenik Senator and everybody lived happily ever after? C’mon people! This is supposed to be a movie about post-apocalyptic nightmares and murderous machines! I can understand wanting to end it on a happy note after all the darkness and extended horror shows, but this was ridiculous! But luckily, this scene never made it in to the original. Clearly, someone felt that it would be better to let the movie end on the same note it had maintained throughout. Thus, they went with the highway ending which was best: succinct, serious, symbolic, yet still hopeful. And it wrapped up everything from the first and second movie nicely, with no wasted effort or needless screen time. Last thing you want after tying up all the loose ends is to drop a fresh load of crap on the audience! It brings the whole production down!

(Synopsis—>)
This time around, I think I’d like to start by mentioning what was weak about the film. For starters, the themes that were present in Aliens that had a way of making it into this movie too. The theme of redemption, be it between man and woman and man and machine, was present in both. As was the theme of the evil corporation working behind the scenes so it could get its hands on something dangerous, and in so doing, condemning people to death. It was only recently that I even noticed this, and it kind of brought the movie down in my estimation. However, I am hard-pressed to argue this point too finely. These themes worked too well for them to be considered weaknesses, in my estimation. It was good and fitting to see Sarah find common ground with her fellow man after so much time of being at odds with them. It was also cool and ironic that a Terminator was capable of learning the value of human life and was ultimately the greatest protector/father figure that John Conner would ever have.

And of course the action scenes that were re-hashed from the first movie. Like I said, one could take the position that this was somehow lazy or uncreative, but I’d be hard-pressed to argue that as well. Mostly, they felt like homages, inside references to stuff the audience already saw and would instantly recognize. Those are desirable in a movie, they are like punch lines that make the audience go “Ahaaaa!” And done properly, they are also amusing and entertaining. And they certainly were in this movie. Arny’s big one-liners, “Come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back” were both deliberate references to the first movie and they worked. The way they zoomed in on Arny’s face and that intense expression as he said the latter; everyone in the audience knew it was painfully significant!

As for the other weaknesses. These mainly took the form of the extended and deleted scenes. For the most part, they kinda sucked. The alternate ending, where Sarah and John are alive decades down the road and the world is peaceful. SUCKED! The scene where we see Dyson at home explaining his work to his wife, how he’s creating the basis for AI… that one was a tad obvious. We already get that his work is revolutionary and will pave the way towards machines that will be able to think and become self-aware. No need to come out and say it. The ones I mentioned, where they switch Arny’s CPU from read-only mode and John teaches Arny facial expressions, those were good and should have been included in my mind. There were also a few from the Foundry where we see the T1000 having some problems re-resolving after being frozen and shattered, which were also good. But of course, running-time is a factor and that’s why we have director’s cuts.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s that one big, possible plot hole in the movie. Essentially, we are told from the get-go that the machines have once again sent back a Terminator and the resistance has once again sent back a fighter of their own. Now didn’t Kyle Reese say in the first movie that they found the Terminator’s time machine when they trashed Skynet’s HQ and only one Terminator had gone in? Didn’t he also say that he was the only other one to go through and they destroyed the machine immediately thereafter? Well sure! So theoretically, John should have been safe from then on. All of this meant that the future would unfold as promised, Judgement Day would happen, and John Conner would grow up to lead the resistance to victory over the machines. There’s simply no way the machines would have known that they had failed, they don’t have a crystal ball that shows them the past or how alternate time lines are unfolding. So its not like they could just say, “Woop! We missed! Send another one!” The very act of sending Arny back was a desperate act, they’d just have to expect that however things were unfolding for them in the future was the direct result.

But, this can be explained away easily enough. For example, how could Kyle know for sure that they destroyed the time machine after he left? For all he knew, they found out that the machines had actually sent two Terminators back in time, one T101 Arny bot and one T1000 advanced prototype. The first one was sent to take out the mother, the second to take out John should the first one fail. The resistance could then say “Oh crap! We need to send another fighter of our own to deal with the second one too! Any ideas?” They looked around, saw another Arny bot, figured it would have a better shot of protecting John from a T1000, decided to reprogram it, and sent it on its merry way. THEN they destroyed the machine! Okay, that works, more or less. Only problem is… you can’t keep doing it! A third batch of Terminators would just make things stupid!

Okay, now the strengths! The movie’s action scenes were awesome! Cameron has shown again and again that he has an eye for making destruction, shoot-em-ups and car chases beautiful! Its little wonder then why he’s a renowned action director. His ideas tend to be old fashioned, but they work in the context of classic sci-fi and his directorial style brings a sense of grandeur and epicness to his work. And of course Arny, a man who embodies those traits, was well suited to what he had to offer. Not the best actor in the world, but he’s nothing if not grand and epic. And this time around, he went beyond those simple attributes to bring some heart and humanity to the Terminator, which is ultimately what makes him him. He’s Arny, the action hero with a heart of gold and a keen sense of humor!

T2 also had a very good plot. Aside from the one possible plot hole which I don’t think anyone cares about anyway, it was virtually seamless. The future that Reese knew and told Sarah about was the direct result of everything they did together in the past. The Terminators exist because the wreckage of the first one was found, John Conner exists because Reese and Sarah had sex, and so on. Kyle Reese told Sarah in the first that he was from the future, but that it was one possible future, maybe… He didn’t know. But alas, we do! It was all foretold thanks to a temporal paradox where the future influenced the past and vice versa. But this time around, they found the fulcrum of this would-be future and removed it. Anal retentive critics might say “Well, if they destroyed all of Cyberdyne’s research, wouldn’t that mean that Skynet would never exist?” Well, good point actually. Once Cyberdyne was destroyed, shouldn’t Arny and the T1000 just have disappeared? Ah, but they had that one covered! You see, as long as the T1000 and Arny were alive and in the past, there was still the chance that Skynet would be created. Hell, for all we knew, that was HOW it got created in the first place. So technically, the future could not be altered til both the T1000 and Arny were destroyed and there was no chance whatsoever that their wreckage would fall into the wrong hands… again!

Another thing worth mentioning was that this movie was made in 1991, a full seven years after the first movie and five after Aliens. In between, he did the Abyss in 1989, but that was it, and had already begun working on Aliens back in 84 when he was shooting The Terminator. So really, he and his people had years to work out the script for T2, and it really showed. I can remember seeing it when it first came out and being blown away, in part because it had such a big feel! This was the long-anticipated sequel to the first movie and just about everyone agreed that it was fun, cool, and awesomely good. Like I said, Cameron already had a reputation for being a sci-fi director after Aliens and T2 really cemented that for him. The use of cutting-edge special effects, the big-budget action scenes, the way the plot really came together; he really topped off the Terminator franchise big time with this movie. The only downside would be if someone got the bright idea to do a third movie. Worse yet, that they’d shoot it sometime after August 29th 1997, when Judgement Day was supposed to have happened! Why, then they’d have to come up with some contrived explanation for why it didn’t happen on schedule, or why the Terminators were still being sent back in time! And that would be just downright nutty…

Terminator 2:
Entertainment Value: 9/10!
Plot: 8/10
Direction: 8/10
Total: 8.5/10