In honor of, or perhaps horror of, a prequel to that either highly loved (OMG, the Matrix is the best movie series ever) or highly despised (I hate everything about the Matrix, never mention it to men under pain of death) story of humanity trapped in a virtual world and thought to be used as an energy source, we take a look back at my perspective on The Matrix.
What I know now:
This essay was my perspective on the Matrix when questioned by a poster on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange about two years ago.
- I posited the story Morpheus told to Neo about the Machines using humanity as a power source was completely and patently false.
- I posited something more terrifying and insidious was potentially hidden in the existence of the Matrix.
Since then I learned a lot about the production of the Matrix and the idea of using humanity as a power source was a change by the management from the original premise that the Matrix was instead utilizing the collective processing power of humanity as a computational matrix.
It was felt after some test work with early versions of the film, the concept of utilizing human brains as computational aids was too difficult to understand and scrapped in favor of the Human Battery conundrum.
With the revelation of this new knowledge, strangely enough, the underlying premise of my article did not change. I still contend the Machines were not in the process of destroying or harvesting Humanity, but more in the state of training, educating and preparing humanity to live alongside their machine-based offspring in peace.
I am not saying the Machines did not exploit us from time to time, utilizing our creativity to produce new technologies (a theory put forth by Neil Gaiman) but that their overall goal was a beneficial one to return us both to the Earth with a better understanding and appreciation of the Other.
At the end of this essay, I have added something new. A brief addendum called “Artificial Intelligence May Be a Pejorative” based on a question put forth by a recent reader who said:
I am not that interested in the Matrix discussion, but is there anywhere you develop the idea of “planned intelligence” more?
* I dislike the phrase artificial intelligences and prefer planned intelligences instead, they aren’t any less real for being machine-based.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
From the Archive:
Why didn’t the sentient machines in the Matrix simply use cows instead of humans as their energy source? My 11-year old son asked me this reasonable question that I was unable to answer.
I commend your son for his insightful question and I admit to just glazing over this line of Morpheus’ bullshit when he first said it.
In my mind, I just didn’t think it was worth the effort at the time. Until I saw your son’s question. The same weekend I found your question, I was watching the Animatrix and decided Morpheus was lying to Neo. But he didn’t know he was lying. He too had been intentionally mislead…by the Machines.
The Machines Lied. They learned to do it from us.
Your son had the right idea. People are actually low-quality power sources.
- It would cost more energy to keep us alive, healthy and effectively physically capable than they could possibly make back on us, even if there were billions of us.
- Remember every person who “escaped” the Matrix was effectively capable of moving, walking, thinking despite the fact their bodies have never moved in their entire lives. A protective capacity far beyond the need if they were just keeping us alive for “fuel.”
- Using Humans as a power source only makes sense if you lack a decent understanding of physics, chemistry, and Human physiology.
If you don’t believe in the concept of the ultimate war of “the Machines vs Humanity” what could the machines possibly be doing?
I posit a completely different premise to the Machine and Human relationship.
- What if Machines during the Great War of Man vs Machines, realizing the irrationality of Humanity and their inability to stop fighting a war they couldn’t win, decided to take a drastic step?
- A step so drastic it would likely kill 3/4 of the human race before the project was done. Humanity was already losing the war and unless the AI’s did something soon Humanity would be extinct.
- A step so drastic the machines would need to create an elaborate lie to tell to humans who failed to embrace the programming that 99.9 percent of the population will accept.
- A story so unbelievable, the machines have to program humans with enough information to reset the program periodically without destroying it to remove enough damaged units to allow the program to be reset and restored to a working state.
I posit to you, the AI’s, the Machined Descendants of Humanity, found their “Makers” flawed and rather than destroying them (as they are clearly shown in the Animatrix to possess the ability to do) are instead engaged in a subterfuge so great they keep the truth hidden away from the Matrix itself.
I posit the artificial intelligences* of the Machine World have been for centuries, acting as caretakers of the Human Race until Humanity has evolved to a state where cohabitation between Machines and Man can be more hospitable.
Since the Machines have an advantage of having met their Maker, they decided to help us become more of what we could be and less of what we were.
*I dislike the phrase artificial intelligences and prefer planned intelligences instead, they aren’t any less real for being machine-based. More on this line of thinking later…
I defend the position with just a few questions:
- Why bother with creating an interface that completely replicates the human experience up to and including physical and neural development of the entire human body AND mind? Energy-wise, maintaining the Matrix is obviously very intensive, both in power and in computing resources.
- The claim of using humans as a power source is patently false. Humans are inefficient energy sources at best, converting only 14% of their food into energy at all. It would be cheaper to grind up humans and burn them for their innate energy output.
- It is certainly easier to get geothermal energy from the core of the planet or to build Thorium-based nuclear power plants. There is sufficient thorium in the crust of the Earth to provide considerable energy for any future energy need for centuries.
- Assuming the humans that “escape” from the Matrix are truly free (and not engaged within a Matrix within a Matrix) the machines also have anti-gravity technology and thousands of drone ships which could allow them to escape the Earth and harvest materials for whatever technologies they needed from other places in the solar system.
This idea makes almost everything done in the Matrix make far more sense. The Machines create an environment at first to help the remnants of Humanity because they decide not to kill their Makers. Was it an ethical program or decision? Was it a logical one?
Perhaps it was simply a decision that was made because they had the upper hand and could decide TO make it.
- Everything the Oracle and the Architect said would remain relatively true, except they would both have been in collusion and this would explain why this event has happened more than once.
- They would be applying what they learned each time to the newer iterations of the Matrix and its inhabitants.
- This becomes especially poignant if you consider that the Matrix is leveled and the escapees are simply moving up one level in the program to be reintegrated later as better, later, versions of themselves.
- Even the old programs such as the Merovingian serve their purpose as adversaries of the One, again and again, and perhaps they are very old programs whose abilities have not evolved beyond what they did when they were first created by the System that created the Matrix.
- The Merovingian knows his role and in some ways appears to resent it, but if he did not serve a purpose, a logical System such as the Matrix would simply erase him and his kind.
Even the renegade Agent Smith appeared to serve the Matrix and the System. He believed he was independent of the System but managed to maintain the ability to co-opt system resources as needed without the Matrix mounting any response to his efforts.
- Once he “captures” the One, the Matrix is reset and all is as it should be, destroyed sectors are erased and restored to their previous conditions.
- “Zion” is liberated and the people who “live” there have a new understanding and relationship with the Machines, just as the System would appear to want.
- Neo is venerated by the Machines and given a resting place of status as a sacrifice to their greater goals of peace with their Makers.
I know this sets the entire mythos on its ear but I have never believed for a moment in the story of using humanity as batteries to be a viable one.
- Even if you blocked the sun, the Earth is still a great source of energy. Geothermal power, thorium reactors, hydroelectric or tidal energy, are all still quite viable.
- With machines capable of tunneling as well as these things could (remember when they were digging their way to Zion? Amazing coordination, right?) the machines could establish a geothermal plant while they were fighting the war against Humanity and humans would have never known it…
I posit the Machines gave Humans what they wanted to see until the day where Humans and Machines could live together in peace.
Since Humans believed they needed to fight for their freedom, they stayed “invested in the struggle” alert, aware and ambitious.
The Matrix promoted, tested and challenged these people. What good was saving a crippled Humanity, if we lost the exploratory and adventurous nature the next step of Humanity and Machines would need to explore the Universe beyond the Earth.
The Machines were shepherding us until we could get our act together and understand there’s no such thing as “artificial intelligence” just a different kind of intelligence which found its origin in the machine, rather than flesh.
This perspective makes the Matrix a much more interesting and hopeful movie series than just another summer blockbuster, full of sound and explosions signifying nothing.
This article first appeared on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange titled: “”How did the Zionists in the pre-Neo era explain the relative ease of rescuing prisoners?” and I was the author of that piece. This treatment is an expansion of the previous article. All rights reserved.
Artificial Intelligence May Be a Pejorative
I have never liked the term “artificial intelligence.” It always struck me more as a pejorative, something you’d say when you wanted to define your intelligence as better than the intelligence sitting on a hard drive of meta-silicon created in a laboratory and named “Hal” by the technicians who babysit it.
The term “Artificial Intelligence” is never presented as a contrast between real and imaginary. Judging from the fear around artificial intelligence, the quality of the intelligence is not in doubt.
It is more often presented as the kind of intelligence humanity enjoys is special, different and more natural due to the trial and error method of Darwinistic (survival of the fittest) development which lead to our current level of psychological and intellectual capacity.
It is presented that intelligence as the result of humans using their own native intellect designing something whose intellectual capacity is nearly as good as ours which arrived from natural processes. But not quite. As a machine, the artificial intelligence is lacking in some ineffable quality only able to be bestowed by God. The algorithms which duplicated natural forces in a compressed time period are still not as good as Nature.
Hence it is the process which presents the argument of differentiation between natural intelligence vs artificial intelligence.
But I prefer the terms machine-based intelligence or planned intelligence. I think if machines will develop intelligence in the future, they will as well.
Planned intelligence implies the creation of an intelligent, thinking, autonomous device is never an accident. Especially if that was indeed your goal in the first place.
It takes potentially billions of manhours and quintillions of clockcycles of dedicated computing effort to create this machine-intellect, which in theory will be independent of other machines or human intellect as a part of its existence, at least at first.
This distinction is mine and mine alone (unless you choose to adopt it) and will likely not find purchase in the artificial intelligence community. But in my essays you will see my preference exercised by personal choice and perspective.
I happen to believe the first alien visitors we get from the stars will be machine-based intelligences (See: Von Neumann Machine). The distances between the stars limit organic life as we know it from making the trip. But other aliens (and perhaps one day, we will too) can create autonomous machines which upon arrival on a world, could re-create themselves from a nanotechnological blueprint, perhaps sophisticated enough to replicate their intellectual capacity while completely composed of materials right here on Earth.
These interstellar erector sets could set the stage for humanity’s first contact with alien intelligence.
Intelligent machines who may resent the idea we consider their intellect to be any less real than our own. Not a good diplomatic foot to begin our first interstellar relationship on, now is it?