James Cameron on Real-Life AI Fears: "The Machines Have Already Won"

The future isn't what it used to be — and, with James Cameron returning to the Terminator franchise for the next installment, that means that he gets the chance to look at today's world and ask, how the machines are most likely to evolve into robotic overlords these days.

"I look at what’s happening now with the emergence of artificial general intelligence equal to or greater than humans, and you’ve got Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking and others saying that this could be really bad for the survival of the human race," he said in this week's Hollywood Reporter cover story. "What was science fiction in the ’80s is now imminent. It's coming over the horizon at us."

Indeed, the triumph of technology might not just be coming over the horizon — it may already be here. "People ask me: 'Will the machines ever win against humanity?' I say: 'Look around in any airport or restaurant and see how many people are on their phones. The machines have already won,'" Cameron said. "It’s just [that] they’ve won in a different way. We are co-evolving with our technology. We’re merging."

Could that point to a potential future for the series? Perhaps, but Cameron is also keeping his eye on just where the next great advancements in artificial intelligence are coming from. "At the very least, they will reflect our best and worst nature because we make them and we program them. But it’s going to take a lot of money. So who’s got the money to do it and the will to do it?" he asked. "It could be business, so the Googles and the other big tech companies. And if you’re doing it for business, you’re doing it to improve your market share or whatever your business goals are. So you’re essentially taking a machine smarter than a human and teaching it greed. Or it’s for defense, in which case you’re taking a machine smarter than a human and teaching it to kill. Neither one of those has a good outcome in my mind."

Should audiences expect a new breed of Terminators that are far more emotional than their predecessors (or, at least, better at business)? Cameron isn't saying, but he did offer one more tease — that, unlike previous movies in the franchise warning about one day when the machines became self-aware, reality has suggested that things might be far more subtle than the Judgment Day of his films. "It probably won’t be that dramatic and will probably happen off-camera to us," he said. "We’ll suddenly be living in a world where that has happened."

And if you read this on your phone, chances are you played a part in it happening. Good job.

The director revolutionized sci-fi storytelling with The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), but sat out the three subsequent films released in 2003, 2009 and 2015. He's on board to produce a new project to be directed by Deadpool's Tim Miller.

For more, read the cover story here, or watch the entire conversation with Miller and Cameron here: