There’s an old joke: “I would rather die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather did, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car.” Geeks are familiar with a number of end-of-the-world scenarios in sci-fi storytelling, such as a zombie apocalypse where the dead rise and eat the living, often turning them into more of the living dead. Or there’s the version where machines and computers take over the world and try to wipe out humankind. As geeks, we sometimes think about these things and wonder which scenario could actually play out and how we might manage in those situations.
On the computer side, let’s look at the Terminator franchise, where an artificial intelligence called Skynet wiped out most of humanity in one fell swoop, then went about exterminating the surviving stragglers. This also applied to other film franchises like The Matrix Trilogy, although in those films, the machine needed to enslave the people as their power source because they had been cut off from the Sun.
For zombies, even though it’s not a film, the popular TV series The Walking Dead (based on an equally-as-good comic series) has continued to handle the theme well. Even though the story never dealt with how it started, a zombie outbreak began and quickly spread all over the United States and potentially the world. In a matter of weeks, the only survivors lived in small pockets of the remaining population, but their numbers continued to dwindle over time. You could also look at films like Dawn of the Dead, or comedy takes such as Shaun of the Dead, or my personal favorite, Fido.
WHICH APOCALYPSE IS MORE PLEASANT?
What if you’re stuck in that apocalyptic moment when the world as we know it comes to an end. How would you rather die? In the Terminator films, there was Judgment Day, a defining moment when the machines decided that humanity was a threat that needed to be neutralized. So they launched many of the planet’s nuclear weapons to take out all of Earth’s major cities.
When people begin to turn into zombies, there’s a tidal wave effect that can spread over an entire landmass. Only small pockets of humanity tend to survive for very long, but the process is incredibly frightening and being eaten alive appears to be one of the most painful ways to die.
WINNER: Tie – Most people would rather die a quick and painless death, and getting caught in the middle of a nuclear explosion is about as quick as it gets. The downside is that even more people would die painfully from the radiation over the next several days. By comparison, 20 zombies taking you down to eat your brains might be preferable.
WHICH IS EASIER TO SURVIVE?
Assuming you’ve survived the initial nuclear attacks and haven’t died from radiation, the post-apocalyptic world of Terminators makes survival incredibly difficult. Even with the proper weapons, the machines are hard to stop. And when they are, Skynet can just make more. Terminators also attack with precision and have a detailed understanding of human anatomy to put people down quickly and permanently.
If you’ve survived the first wave of zombie attacks, survival depends on your ability to keep aware of your surroundings. With a few simple weapons, someone could survive most one-on-one or small group attacks. Of course it gets harder when there are a lot of them.
WINNER: Zombies – Living in a world of zombies is far more preferable to machines. Most guns won’t take down a single Terminator, but small arms can take down a lot of living dead. And let’s not forget that swords don’t run out of bullets or call the attention of more zombies. A sword is unlikely to take down an armored robot, plus you wouldn’t want to get that close anyway.
WHICH IS EASIER TO DEFEAT?
After the first Terminator film, the prevailing theme has been how to take down Skynet and end the reign of the machines in order to restore humanity. This is no easy feat, but in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah and John Connor tried to stop Cyberdyne from being able to create Skynet all together. By Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines it turned out that Judgment Day was simply inevitable. The fourth installment, Terminator: Salvation, took place during the actual war with the machines, and once again the hope was that the humans would be able to stop Skynet once and for all so that humanity would return to its normal state.
For Zombies, there are several schools of thought. In 28 Weeks Later (the sequel to 28 Days Later), the zombies had slowly stopped. Their dead bodies rotted too much for them to continue and the limited neuron firing in their brains, which actually does continue for a while after death, had come to an end and the country appeared to be safe again. In The Walking Dead, no amount of time seems to stop the dead from walking, so even if they managed to find a cure, the zombies can still “eat you to death.”
WINNER: Robots – It would be hard to put an end to either terror, but putting down Skynet is at least possible. We have to assume that some of the surviving machines wouldn’t simply recreate a base of operations, which is possible. The easiest way to stop them all would be with a kind of computer virus. But with zombies, those small pockets of survivors would have to literally take down every single walker in the world and survive the process. Even if that were possible, just one zombie who had been stuck in a house the whole time could cause a whole new outbreak. It would be easier to stop all the robots.
CAN THIS HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE?
Outside of fiction, what is the likelihood of one of these events occurring? Is it possible for a zombie outbreak to end the world as we know it today? Can machines and computers really bring humanity to its ultimate conclusion? There are actually real people who may appear otherwise sane, but have collected weapons specifically with a zombie apocalypse in mind.
WINNER: Robots – The zombie outbreak is pure science fiction. The idea that the dead will rise and start eating the flesh and brains of the living is purely supernatural and has no basis in science. Machines on the other hand could be entirely possible. At the rate that technology is growing and improving to what science refers to as “The Singularity,” when a computer is smart enough to be considered truly “Artificial Intelligence,” the possibility is very real, although still unlikely. At the rate technology is growing today, Popular Mechanics Magazine projects that a computer processor will be powerful and fast enough to rival the complexities of the human brain in about 30 years.
That’s not to say that an intelligent machine will suddenly see humans as an enemy and try to wipe them out, but the possibility is very real, while the dead rising and hungering for the living is purely fiction.
What do you think? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to check in to see what others are saying back. All ideas are welcome.