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Is the basic premise of humans as a power source in The Matrix reasonable?
Why Did the Machines Even Bother With a Matrix?

The machines in The Matrix series use humans as batteries. That's OK. But why did the machines not alter their livestock such that the matrix itself would be unnecessary?

Consider the recently proposed headless chicken farm. Something similar for the human batteries would seem to be an ideal solution for logical machines. No longer would they need to spend resources maintaining a virtual reality for their batteries. The energy, physical hardware and programs running the matrix could then be put to who knows what other uses.

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    If chickens are too small, using cows instead of humans would too require a much simpler Matrix: just a simulation of a big, endless pasture...
    – vsz
    Mar 1, 2012 at 18:06
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    I wonder if it is even possible to sustain human life without the sun. While it may not be apparent, we all rely on solar power, by eating plants, and things that eat plants. Any system recycling humans as food would not by far cover the energy requirement to sustain a human being, and on top of that be able to run a huge computer city and a huge computer program. So, basically, the logic in The Matrix is not exactly foolproof.
    – TLP
    Mar 1, 2012 at 19:54
  • They tried it with cows. This was the result. (Warning: YouTube video with music and somewhat creepy visuals.) Mar 1, 2012 at 20:58
  • Why use humans at all, they're fairly inefficient. A couple of good geothermal taps would do nicely I would think.
    – Sam
    Mar 1, 2012 at 22:02
  • I think the virtual reality was the whole point for the computers: a computer program that isn't running doesn't really exist. So I think Morpheus' bioelectricity explanation is incorrect or at least misleading: yeah, the computers need humans, but for their brainpower, not their electrical power.
    – Martha
    Mar 1, 2012 at 22:50

4 Answers 4


The explanation for the use of human brains would seem to be the fact that our complex thoughts lead to higher level of brain activity, thus resulting in exponentially more synapses firing (i.e. more electrical activity to harvest).

That makes human brains far more efficient than the brains of animals, even with the overhead of maintaining the matrix. Plus, that movie would have really sucked... dumb cows and chickens revolt against the machines! ;)

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    A lot of these questions boil down to "because there wouldn't have been a movie about it otherwise." Mar 1, 2012 at 18:13
  • Unless stated otherwise, we should assume the question is asking for an in-universe explanation.
    – vsz
    Mar 2, 2012 at 20:51

There might be an alternative usefulness of using humans, besides using the bio-electricity or body heat for energy: They can use part of their brains (those that control stuff the people in the pods don't need) for their computational power, as a big shared network of processors. We even have screensavers doing this job today.

By the way, if the machines are very intelligent (and it seems they really are), they also need some sorts of big accomplishments. Why do some people maintain big, complex, and beautiful aquariums, if they only needed fish for their meat they could have used more efficient ways.

However, the most logical explanation for me is, that as a highly advanced "society", they might want to refrain from genociding sentient life. Why would they want to completely drive humans to extinction? Maybe Earth is the only planet with sentient life, so why exterminate the very first sentient life-form inside this Universe / Galaxy? They might want to study our culture, our history, etc. The Earth is rendered nearly uninhabitable after the war, by creating the Matrix, the Machines essentially saved (at least most of) humanity from extinction.


Look, the Humans As Energy Source idea was stupid to begin with, just indefensible from the word "go".

The kind answer is to suppose that this theory was simply wrong. Maybe Morpheus believed it as dogma, or maybe he knew and was lying to his disciples for reasons of his own. We can dismiss everything the Machines said, but they must have had some other reason for keeping people alive and thinking, e.g.:

  • They had some kind of Prime Directive to preserve the human race.
  • They found human society amusing or scientifically interesting.
  • They were trying to give humanity a chance to grow up, and maybe someday return to waking life.
  • They didn't maintain the matrix in order to keep humans alive, they kept humans alive in order to maintain the matrix (which they wanted for some other reason, which could have been almost anything).

A more realistic answer is that the producers had an incredibly low opinion of the intelligence and scientific literacy of the audience (I submit the sequels as evidence). They had a conversation that went something like "We gotta have a motive for the Machines, some reason to keep humans alive, so... energy. Everybody wants energy, right? And nobody understands energy, right? Yeah, that won't go over anybody's head. And we gotta dumb down this part... and that one... yeah, more..."

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    To be fair to the producers, they knew this was stupid - the idea had been to use humans for computing power, not electrical. The studio made them change it.
    – Tynam
    Jun 19, 2012 at 13:55
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    @Tynam: Let me get this straight. It's not just the director dumbing down what the writers and actors do, or the producers dumbing down what the director does, it's also the studio stepping in and grinding down the high spots? Suddenly it all makes so much more sense...
    – Beta
    Jun 19, 2012 at 18:11
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    Yep. In the Wachowskis' original plan, the machines were using human brains as a giant neural-network computer to run on. The studio execs thought the audience wouldn't understand... so they changed it, thereby introducing a thousand plotholes and making it much harder to understand. Nice work, Hollywood. The whole idea of the One makes way more sense if you keep this in mind.
    – Tynam
    Jun 19, 2012 at 19:26

I wonder if it is even possible to sustain human life without the sun. While it may not be apparent, we all rely on solar power, by eating plants, and things that eat plants. Any system recycling humans as food would not by far cover the energy required to sustain a human being throughout his or her entire life, and on top of that be able to run a huge computer city and a huge computer program. While the human body and brain exudes a lot of energy, it also requires a large amount of energy to sustain, hence making it a rather unprofitable zero sum game.

Energy is absolute: It cannot be created nor destroyed. Life on Earth exists today because plants can transfer energy from sunlight into energy that they use to live. If the sun were to disappear, life on Earth would eventually die out, as is speculated as being the cause behind the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event (when dinosaurs became extinct).

The Matrix is intriguing from an existential speculation point of view (There is no spoon), but I would argue that its logic is not particularly well thought out, and as riddled by large gaping holes as our ozone layer.

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    Absolutely. The system as explained in the first movie is clearly a perpetual motion machine, and violates the laws of thermodynamics.
    – ruakh
    Mar 1, 2012 at 20:41
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    That is if the liquified dead humans are the only source of sustanance the machines are using to keep their humans alive.
    – Xantec
    Mar 1, 2012 at 21:14
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    @Xantec It does not matter. The sum of energy is the same: No new energy coming in. Whether its recycled human flesh or recycled biproducts of other kinds. You cannot gain energy by disassembling and reassembling things perpetually.
    – TLP
    Mar 1, 2012 at 22:52
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    +1 FINALLY someone states the obvious :) This was driving me insane. No energy source is viable, either liquified humans or whatever, if the Sun is blocked out. And suppose we have a magic-aided suspension of disbelief: whatever magical source exists in the Matrix universe, surely using it directly is more efficient than using humans!
    – Andres F.
    Mar 2, 2012 at 1:03
  • What if, as energy was extracted from the system, the population of the Matrix declined? That opens up a whole new set of questions, though. The machines would probably be better off just incinerating the humans.
    – Simon
    Mar 5, 2012 at 18:34

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