Agent Smith, in the first Matrix movie (The Matrix) talks about how the machines originally created a paradise setting and humans didn't accept it, so it went back and created a more realistic one that humans would accept.

The human bodies, as we've seen, are kept in tanks and the body is kept asleep. But why did the Matrix need to provide any kind of simulation for the brain to experience? Why couldn't it have just kept all humans in a medically induced coma? Or performed something equivalent to a lobotomy on every human?

Why did the Matrix need to spend the resources to keep the humans in good mental shape?

  • 81
    They'd have had a much simpler (and less revolution-prone) power source if they'd just exterminated all the humans and put all the planet's cows in tanks.
    – Dan Ray
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 19:09
  • 4
    True, @DanRay; but why not have humans double as server farm? ;)
    – Raphael
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 21:37
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    @Xantec - Who cares? They're cows! Put 'em in a tank! Once they've slaughtered the human race, you think they're going to get hung up on being humane to cows? Show them some videos of pastures, they'll be fine.
    – Dan Ray
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 18:39
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    @DanRay It's been done: themeatrix.com
    – Chelonian
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 21:21
  • 1
    I posted this in a similar question just the other day, but it always makes me laugh: machall.com/view.php?date=2003-05-14
    – Dacio
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 18:39

9 Answers 9


Referring to the various canon sources, we can see a number of reasons why the machines chose to create a Matrix for the humans, rather than simply using cows or pigs.

The Animatrix Canon

At the end of the sequence "Second Renaissance - Part II", we see the machine negotiator at the UN receiving (and accepting) the human negotiator's "Instrument of Surrender". He states his sole precondition, that the humans will "Hand over your flesh".

Although the machines are shown to be creatively vicious, there is no indication whatsoever that they intend to renege on the agreement and kill all the remaining humans.

Comic Canon

Regarding the reason why the machines don't simply use cows, in the story "Goliath", written by Neil Gaiman, we learn that the humans are being used not only for their electrical energy but also that the machines are using humans as memory storage and processing units.

What's going on?" I asked. "Do you know?" "Enemy missile took out a central processing unit," he said. "Two hundred thousand people, hooked up in parallel, blown to dead meat. We've got a mirror going of course, and we'll have it all up and running again in no time flat. You're just free-floating here for a couple of nanoseconds, while we get London processing again."

Additionally, the machines then use a human pilot (in an attempt to avert an invasion by aliens) because he is a more capable pilot than the machines themselves are able to provide.

"Why me?" "Well," he said, "the short answer is that you were designed to do this. We've improved a little on the basic human design in your case. You're bigger. You're much faster. You have faster processing speeds and reaction times."

Film Canon

In the final sequence of The Matrix Revolutions, we see the Architect pouring scorn on the idea that he might renege on the deal made with the Zion humans.

Oracle : I have your word?

Architect : What do you think I am, human?

This ties in very nicely with The Animatrix canon. The machines accepted the instrument of surrender and have been trying ever since, to keep the humans in a state of quiescence rather than attempting (as they could very easily) to kill them.

  • The actual reason why they took a human is that the machines cannot fly above the clouds.
    – MauganRa
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 20:57
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    One would have to ask, though: with the humans who have escaped and designed ships with EMP’s and EMP guns to use against the machines, wouldn’t the machines have seen that as the humans “breaking their part” of the UN agreement and thus making it perfectly reasonable to kill/lobotomize the humans? Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 22:07
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    @MissouriSpartan - It's a necessary feature to allow the Humans to feel like they're capable of standing up against the Machines. Don't forget that it's all a total fiction, right down to the Machines cleaning up Zion for the Humans to find after they've been roaming around the wilderness for a bit, then killing everyone and doing it all again a hundred years later.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 22:13
  • Good point, although, obviously Neo broke that cycle when he sacrificed himself to kill Smith. Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 22:15

Although I'm a bit afraid of repeating myself; We tend to instinctively think of the machines in The Matrix like how we expect a human adversary to behave. This is a natural thing, given that we are humans and only know human adversaries. In The Matrix, and especially in the Animatrix-"History" parts the machines have been depicted as quite peaceful and non-resentful (I am not saying that they are technically at peace with the humans, I'm referring to their nature -- if you can call it that).

They see their symbiosis with mankind as something beneficial for humans as well, possibly as the closest thing to a peaceful coexistence. This is expressed when Smith is talking to Morpheus (somewhere between his History-Lesson about Matrix-v1.0) when he says that the human culture became their own culture when they started thinking for the humans.

In the Matrix films this is not shown that distinctively, but The Animatrix is more than obvious: Besides the energy they get by running the Matrix it's not in their interest to destroy humanity (physically or culturally) -- they merely wish to exist themselves. This has proven hard if the humans are given free rein.

This way of looking at the machines fits the bigger (Out-of-universe) picture quite well: The Wachowski's main message is that mankind is dependent* on the instruments it invented. It is a dry statement that draws its significance not from the instruments being evil and wanting to oppress** people, but because humans want to depend on the instruments.

* (to make it more mass-compatible replace "dependent" with "enslaved by" and add a lot of fighting and stuff)
** (there goes that metaphor again, but I don't have a better word for it right now)

  • 3
    points for the animatrix reference -- I've always wondered if the machines are really looking for something else in human brains and "power" is just a red-herring or a reference for computing power.
    – SteveED
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 4:00
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    +1. All the machines ever wanted was to be left alone, not destroy humanity. I suppose this is the most humane solution they could think of.
    – HNL
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 7:42
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    @HNL: Yes. Unless vsz is right: he pointed out in a comment to the linked answer that the entire story told in Animatrix might be machine propaganda implanted in Zion, which would turn around this argument by 180 degree.
    – bitmask
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 9:18

Because the Matrix was using all the processing power of the Human brains to power itself up.

It is the machines' form of renewable energy.

If the brain is in a coma it can be essentially "brain dead" and useless to the machines.

  • 5
    They do point out it is the electrical impulses that generate the power, as well as body heat. youtube.com/watch?v=bEHoU0lWyx8
    – Ashterothi
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 19:01
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    "processing power" is ambiguous here. They do not use the humans as some sort of processing units! Only as a power source.
    – bitmask
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 19:26
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    @bitmask: Using them as processing units would have made a lot more sense. (Someone more cynical than I am might suggest that that wouldn't have allowed for the Duracell produce placement.) Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 20:13
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    ~6 billion awful CPUs in parallel are still very powerful.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 20:47
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    This idea is 'as intended' - the writers' original intent was that the humans were being used as processing power, not electrical. The Matrix is software running on a distributed human-brain wetware platform. Idiot studio interference changed this. All three movies make much more sense if viewed imagining that, instead of holding up a battery, Morpheus held up a CPU.
    – Tynam
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 12:17

Assuming the process of gleaning energy from the human body is even the least bit efficient, which it's not, I imagine the reason you keep the mind active and not in a vegetative state is to keep the body active enough so as to prolong diminishing returns caused by the slowing of their metabolisms.

Weight gain and loss are generally the result of basic thermodynamics, though metabolic rates play a crucial role. If a healthy yet comatose body was placed in some sort of heat/energy capture device, over time as the metabolism slowed, the process of harnessing energy from the body would become less efficient.

Keeping the mind active allows for physiological responses to the stimuli. Varying heart rates, muscular switching, neurological activity and so forth all ensure the body maintains some level of metabolic health while also generating energy. The psychological effects can't be discounted as well. A fit person inside the Matrix might actually have a higher metabolic rate than an unfit one. The higher the metabolic of a person, the greater the energy produced.

I suppose it's the organic version of adding grease to mechanical components. It ensures the efficiency of the power generation machines.

Of course, as someone else mentioned, why not just use cows? They have larger bodies and respond more predictably to certain types of stimuli. A grassy field with the occasional wolf chasing them would more than suffice.

  • Human brains must have something the machines want, or the fusion plants and more reliable batteries would've replaced the farms. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 12:48

Because the machines were artificially intelligent, it doesn't make them artificially creative. They could seemingly only do things based on what they knew already, and would not have advanced much further if they didn't have creative minds to help them. Every time the One came into being, he would inevitably reach the Source, at which time he'd plug himself into the Matrix and the Matrix would be upgraded. But also, because the people were allowed to think and be creative, each time the Machines were able to get new ideas for things that they could build for themselves. Otherwise, they were stuck with the technology that they'd already developed and because the intelligence was artificial, they weren't really able to think beyond themselves, or outside of the box to find other solutions to things that were harmful to them. For instance, in all of this time, they hadn't figured out how to clean the sky, they've got machines that fire a single red laser, and they have a wall of other machines around their city to defend. For all of their intelligence, the machines are actually quite dumb.

Another piece of this puzzle is that the humans had once enslaved them, and they were "living" at the time. What better revenge (to them at least) than to enslave all of humanity while they think they're alive.


IF you ask me it is kind of simple.


Think of brain-dead humans = no energy no movement no thoughts (if tangled with force as batteries)


Think of active humans, like soldiers running and sweating, football players and other activity = body heat, energy , adrenaline

Or maybe I'm just lost :)

  • Thinking exhausts energy... So, Machines shouldn't like it...
    – user931
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 22:14
  • exhaust energy from the human yes, but the energy can be taken from us for storage if the tech is there.
    – Alireza7am
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 9:26
  • @SachinShekhar - Morpheus notes that the machines don't just harvest electricity, they also harvest heat.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 9:29

@Bitmask is on the right track. To add a bit more detail, it's stated - in the Animatrix - that using humans as batteries was in direct response to humans darkening the sky; the machines had previously used solar power as their primary source of energy.

In regards to keeping them in mental shape, they only make vague statements. While in the Source, Neo is told that they tried numerous solutions - including a paradise - but in each case the matrix failed. It wasn't until they created an imperfect world like the one we live in everyday, that they had any success.

It's mostly plot device duct taped together with a mixture of real-science and pseudo-science.


It has been proven inefficient to use any large biological organism as a "battery"- there is actually energy lost in the system. So realistically you can't use humans, cows, or chickens.

Also- nobody in any of the movies actually got out of the Matrix (whoa!). We have no idea what the "real world" actually looks like.

  • 1
    While it's proven to be inefficient, that's not what I'm asking. Your answer really doesn't address the question that has been asked. (Whether or not humans as a power source is efficient has already been asked in another question.)
    – Tango
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 21:30
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    there is actually energy lost in the system -- there are quite a few physicists that would like to talk to you.
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Jul 1, 2012 at 4:53
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    @LieRyan: there is actually entropy gained in the system, though; which for practical purpose does mean there is usable energy lost. Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 23:02
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    The planet still radiates energy to space, so the system is not closed. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 12:45

The matrix serves the humans. The humans serve the matrix.

that was what was said overlooking the machines while in zion, it was the point of the yin-yang fall of Smith and Neo

  • I think you missed the point of the question. If humans are kept unconscious, there's no need for a matrix, which means no need for them to serve a matrix or any need for a matrix to serve them. From there, you jump to an unsupportable point that sounds philosophical but really makes no clear sense at all.
    – Tango
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 8:49
  • The machines don't really "need" humans in that manner - it's just another story told to humans. The machines are created to look after humans, so they have ultimately done that and are constantly evolving new ways to do this. But the humans constantly adapt, so the machines adapt.
    – mist42nz
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 22:38
  • But at a certain point the digital concept grows that perhaps the best way to look after the humans and their environment - is just to get rid of the humans. That becomes a pathological virus in the networked machine mind and it makes mathematical efficiency sense. But. The wiser deeper machine mind(s) know that with out their "pets"/"masters"/"siblings" then the world is just purposeless; machines serving machines that serve machines - by the same logic better efficiency is to have no machines either.
    – mist42nz
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 22:45

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