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In The Matrix the machines "grow" humans to provide a source of power. Is this really feasible from the perspective of power generation (never mind all the business of growing/feeding people)? Wouldn't the machines just use nuclear power?

Edit: For what it's worth, in the movie Morpheus explains that the human power is "combined with a form of fusion."

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  • 63
    I think the original concept for the movie the human mind was meant to be used as a single node on a complex neural network - so that humans added more processing power to the matrix system, which makes more sense than just using them for power and explained why keeping them in a persistant vegetative state wouldn't make sense, I think the movie would still work as the threat of too many minds leaving the system would remove capacity and processing from the Matrix – RoguePlanetoid Jan 23 '11 at 9:58
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    If you wanted to get energy out of humans, you don't plug into their spinal cord, but into their aorta. Furthermore, that solves every problem of the human every escaping (alive) as well. – Ivo Flipse Jan 23 '11 at 10:58
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    the only sensible reason would be for using the computing power of all those brains. birds have twice the metabolic rate as mammals, so if your only power source was oxygen and sugar, and for some weird reason, you couldn't just burn them to make heat, you'd be better off with millions of comatose turkeys. – JustJeff Feb 3 '11 at 22:47
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    The machines are just obeying the Zeroth law of Robotics: When all the humans are safely stored, humanity is saved. The rebels keep trying to destroy the matrix. They are wrong and endanger humanity. The machines are really the good guys in that film ⸮ – Sardathrion Aug 29 '12 at 12:36
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    We only have it on Morpheus' authority (who heard it from a one) that they are using humans for energy. Perhaps the machines tell the humans this lie to hide the real reason for the Matrix: Its a MMORPG for the machines to play, and humans are the NPCs! ;) – Nick Aug 29 '12 at 13:11

23 Answers 23

164

Yeah, this isn't feasible. Humans produce heat and radiate heat, but not so much that you could really harness it for power. It wouldn't be at all efficient given the necessary inputs of food and water. The nuclear power would be far more practical.

So, no, the machines wouldn't use humans for power. It makes no sense.

For those who require more explanation: humans produce their energy from food, primarily glucose. However, the majority of that energy produced does not go to releasing heat. The heat is an afterthought, part of maintaining homeostasis to allow for the most efficient biological reactions. Most of the energy goes into powering our cells so that they reproduce, make proteins, power our brain, etc.

Attempting power generation by harvesting human heat is ridiculously inefficient. You'd be infinitely better off just burning the glucose.

And this isn't taking into account all the other foods and nutrients we need to stay healthy that have nothing to do with us generating heat.

  • 130
    We don't need to do any work; we have the second law of thermodynamics. Human beings will in all circumstances produce less usable energy than is available from their food, so why not just burn the food in power stations instead. – Mike Scott Jan 23 '11 at 7:29
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    @Ivo, the humans in The Matrix aren't performing labour; they're being held immobile in tanks while their body heat is tapped for power. – Mike Scott Jan 23 '11 at 15:21
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    Additionally, life in all organic forms is solar powered. We are solar powered in the sense that what we eat was solar powered, or what they ate was, so on. Eventually, all the energy had to come from somewhere. – DampeS8N Jan 24 '11 at 21:52
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    I don't like how you're giving the future robots ideas on how to best consume energy from us. :( – Zolomon Aug 16 '11 at 10:49
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    It doesn't matter what form of energy we're talking about. The human body must be fed and consumes much of the energy that it is fed. No matter how you are trying to retrieve energy from the body, you are better off simply burning the food. – Daniel Bingham Jan 27 '14 at 16:57
233

By Eliezer Yudkowsky

MORPHEUS: For the longest time, I wouldn't believe it. But then I saw the fields with my own eyes, watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living -

NEO (politely): Excuse me, please.

MORPHEUS: Yes, Neo?

NEO: I've kept quiet for as long as I could, but I feel a certain need to speak up at this point. The human body is the most inefficient source of energy you could possibly imagine. The efficiency of a power plant at converting thermal energy into electricity decreases as you run the turbines at lower temperatures. If you had any sort of food humans could eat, it would be more efficient to burn it in a furnace than feed it to humans. And now you're telling me that their food is the bodies of the dead, fed to the living? Haven't you ever heard of the laws of thermodynamics?

MORPHEUS: Where did you hear about the laws of thermodynamics, Neo?

NEO: Anyone who's made it past one science class in high school ought to know about the laws of thermodynamics!

MORPHEUS: Where did you go to high school, Neo?

(Pause.)

NEO: ...in the Matrix.

MORPHEUS: The machines tell elegant lies.

(Pause.)

NEO (in a small voice): Could I please have a real physics textbook?

MORPHEUS: There is no such thing, Neo. The universe doesn't run on math.

  • 46
    How do you know what's the real world? – M.K. May 30 '11 at 18:21
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    The one that we live in now. Until someone comes to me with a red or blue pill I'm going to assume that this world is real. – James Mertz May 30 '11 at 21:19
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    Neo's explication in his second line is actually correct for our world. Morpheus just disproves it when Neo's knowledge would come from within a corrupted world. – Konerak Jul 13 '11 at 20:01
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    -1 Anything can be proven by starting from a false premise. Therefore, IMO the premise "everything you know about Physics is wrong" isn't a very interesting starting point. It's not a point the Wachowskis seems to be making in Matrix, either; they merely imply some things about the real world might not be what they seem, but certainly not everything. – Andres F. Jan 7 '13 at 1:31
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    @Nathan C. Tresch: Only at first glance. A world where the laws of thermodynamics don't apply would be completely unrecognizable in every way, not as 99.9999% identical to ours as the "real world" of the Matrix is. – Michael Borgwardt Jan 7 '13 at 9:37
63

No, the laws of thermodynamics (specifically, that entropy in a closed system will always increase) state quite clearly that if you have a food source capable of feeding a human body, it will produce more power to use that food source as fuel than to pass it through a human body.

The human body spends significant amounts of energy maintaining its own body temperature, powering organs, pumping blood, and thinking. All the electrical activity in the brains and neurons isn't free, and it takes energy to process air into a fuel source.

Literally everything the human body does is an energy sink, and the waste energy we give off that the machines are purported to use (body heat, I believe) is a miniscule fraction of what we require to function. Even if you could reclaim only 50% of the calories in a food source by burning them in a furnace, it would be a vastly superior compared to 'feed it to people and eat their body heat'.

This was a big issue with The Matrix, but in light of The Animatrix, I have an alternate theory: The machines don't really want to eliminate humans, just to be safe from them. This is consistent with their creation of the machine nation (which humanity destroyed) and their actions in the movies.

They want humans to exist, but they want to exist as well. Since it's been demonstrated that coexistence fails, they logically decided that imprisoning humanity was the most efficient way to allow the humans to live without threatening the machines.

My guess would be that the immense power generation setup was part of a double-blind: they knew some humans would be free of the matrix (as the architect explains) but they needed some visible reason to keep humans around (reasonable enough that the humans would not search for other reasons). So they likely try to use the human batteries as the primary power source for the matrix (supplementing it with their standard power sources, as it would be insufficient by itself).

In short, the machines did it in part to reduce the cost of keeping humans alive, and to prevent the inevitable freed humans from railing against the machine's primary civilization and culture.

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    I agree this makes more sense than the "power generation" nonsense. However, I guess for this answer to be on-topic it needs to answer yes/no to the main question :) (my guess is that your answer amounts to "no, it's not reasonable if power generation is the main goal". – Andres F. Jan 7 '13 at 1:37
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    Maybe there's a Laws of Robotics connection here. It's possible that AIs are incapable of exterminating the human race. – Brian Gordon Jul 31 '14 at 9:11
  • @BrianGordon: Not in the slightest. Asimov's Three Laws are things an AI would have to be specifically programmed with. No AI with the Three Laws could send Sentinels to kill humans in job lots, and no AI with the Laws could have turned against the humans as the Machines did. – Jeff Jul 31 '14 at 14:28
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    @Jeff I'm not saying they literally have Asimov's laws built in, I'm saying that they might have some analogous imperative against destroying the human race. – Brian Gordon Aug 2 '14 at 12:13
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    @Jeff The taking of individual human life could be a very useful ability for an AI to have. It's plausible even today for military drone software to kill people in an automated fashion. Is it so unlikely that the Matrix AIs could have been developed by the world's militaries? In that case maybe the only feasible proscription is the annihilation of all human life. This would be useful as a guarantee against a nuclear winter caused by AIs. – Brian Gordon Aug 5 '14 at 0:44
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It is surely pointless. Much more energy could be harvested by simply burning the nutrients that are fed to the humans - actually even more energy could be harvested by not producing the nutrients and using the energy saved elsewhere.

In fact, humans only radiate heat as a byproduct - because they keep their temperature constant - and so they are really inefficient heat engines.

Also, in the movie, humans are kept alive in a soup. Now, what is the temperature of that soup? Does it need to be heated in order to keep the humans alive? Well, the energy cost of keeping the soup warm is actually way more than you could extract from the humans!

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    Is that what your matrix physics book tells you? (see M.K.'s answer...) – Highly Irregular Mar 5 '12 at 9:07
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    @HighlyIrregular It's disappointing to quote some rant by E-Y, unsupported by the actual script, and use it to argue against real-world physics. It'd be better to say, "well, maybe the Matrix isn't SF. It's a fantasy world where the rules of the real world don't apply". No need to quote crackpots for that :) – Andres F. Feb 9 '14 at 21:06
  • I am pretty sure that the laws of thermodynamics, gravity, electromagnetism and conservation of mass-energy are respected even in the Matrix world. Stuff falls down when it's let go, stuff needs energy to run, solar panels work, clouds exist and so on. – Sklivvz Feb 14 '17 at 7:20
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There already are several devices that can derive power from external sources. (Energy Harvesting methods) The ones that could possibly be used to extract energy from humans held in pods are mainly :

These technologies still have a lot of room for improvement, but for arguments sake let's assume 50µW and 100µW respectively.

Let's say the outfit each individual with 10 of these Energy Harvesters.

Resulting in 1500µW per person.

Assuming there are 5 billion people being kept at all times. [4]

This would result in a power output of 7.5 Mega Watts, while not nearly enough this is just using today's technology which presumably will be a lot more developed in the future.

So even though there are definitely more efficient ways of producing energy, it might be feasible if the technology is sufficiently mature.

EDIT:

An average person needs about 2000 Calories a day (Food Energy), which translates to roughly 100 Watt.

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    Both methods are less efficient than burning food needed to sustain life of those humans. And even if burning is not an option, it is better to use bacteria. – user48 Jan 23 '11 at 11:18
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    @mbq : I'm not saying it's the way to go, far from, just that it might work. – 13Tazer31 Jan 23 '11 at 11:30
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    Well, if producing power is the only aim of this, the level of nonsense is equal to Rube Goldberg machines. – user48 Jan 23 '11 at 11:38
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    You are off by 3 orders of magnitude on the energy input - look up the definition of a food calorie (Big C!) – so12311 Aug 8 '11 at 14:40
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    @13Tazer31 Humans must consume more energy than they output; otherwise they would be creating free energy. No amount of playing with numbers is going to change this. So no, they are not a viable power source. There may be other reasons, though. – Andres F. Jan 7 '13 at 1:39
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As much as I enjoyed The Matrix, this was the most silly premise of the movie. As stated before, I could understand using humans as an organic computation source, but there's just not that much energy outputted from a human body, especially when there's much better sources that we see in the film... lightning, winds, and even their drilling tech could have been used for geothermal energy.

  • If Morpheus knew the machines could invade him whenever he hooked up, he'd know Zion was a ruse. – Cees Timmerman Jul 17 '15 at 14:19
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A few alternatives they could have used that would make sense:

  • Raise a tower to space for a) solar power, b) harness sky voltage, c)harness energy from lighting discharge, d) harness energy from layer of electrostatic interference surrounding the earth

  • Dig down to the core for geothermal energy

  • 1
    Raising a tower or a tethered satellite. – Adam Jan 26 '11 at 15:29
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    Honestly, I don't understand why we don't talk about harnessing sky voltage in today's forums of renewable energy... maybe I'm missing something – Adam Jan 26 '11 at 16:54
  • You're assuming that they don't do all of these things. Just because we don't see them, doesn't mean that they aren't. Heck, the architect seems pretty sanguine about the possibility of the entire human race being killed. "There are levels of survival that we are wiling to consider" so obviously humans aren't the only thing in the energy mix. – Valorum Feb 9 '14 at 19:06
  • A lightning bolt would be worth a nickel of electricity if you even guessed the location and charge, and was able to store it. – Cees Timmerman Jul 17 '15 at 14:31
  • It's not about the lightning bolt, it's about the potential difference between high up in the atmosphere versus deep underground. This is voltage. – Adam Oct 15 '15 at 14:17
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The Second law of thermodynamics states any system will run to entropy over time, i.e unless there is some new input of heat or information at a very fundamental level to sustain the system and restore order. For the matrix films, the assumption is made that the human are acting as a power source, where the output is greater than the input. That breaks the second law. Also the assumption is made (implicitly I think, It's not really discussed at any length) that humans are essentially a derivation of a know fallacy, namely perpetual motion machines. These have never proven to exist, or can exist, because they would break the second law.

But hey, it's a cool film. Enjoy. And today, Keanu Reeves announced 4 and 5 are in development.

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    That doesn't really tally with what's actually said in the films... – Valorum Feb 9 '14 at 19:08
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Humans could not possibly be a viable fuel source. The sugar, proteins, and lipids that would be required to raise a human to adulthood like in the movie would need to come originally from plants. Plants use light energy from the sun to produce sugar through photosynthesis. The idea that the machines would convert heat and electricity from fusion into light to produce sugar to feed humans to harness heat and electricity is absurd.

The idea of using the human brains as nodes in a giant matrix is interesting. I believe there is more than enough processing power there to support the virtual reality and expand on the machines processing power. Even more interesting to me is the parallel between this story and Isaac Asimov's rules of robotics. Perhaps the machines never eliminated the humans because they can't. Perhaps they believe they are in fact doing the humans a favor. Keeping us safe from ourselves.

As a scientist, I am deeply bothered by the notion of an entire movie being based on such an absurd premise. We must all remember, however, that if the future machine overlords do in fact eradicate human kind (as they certainly would) then movies like the matrix and terminator don't get made in the first place. These movies are compelling but why? Because at the heart of them is the notion that faced with an overwhelming common enemy we would stop fighting ourselves and work together.

10

It is not reasonable. Neither is sending people back in time to kill them. Dreaming inside a dream making your brain run 10x faster for each level is also not reasonable. I think the 'reason' part is that the story writer hoped it would freak movie goers out to think of the human race as a power supply for machines. It's along the same lines as zombies needing to eat brains. Freak-out factor +100, real-world physics -100.

  • If my grand^10 father was a starving cannibal, he might enjoy some future flesh. – Cees Timmerman Jul 17 '15 at 14:35
8

I have read a theory that machines are using "unused part of human brain" to control nuclear fusion -- the second part seems reasonable, but first of all, there is no such thing as "unused part of the brain" and probably the computational power required to run matrix itself is way higher than this needed to control fusion.
The other option is that machines are using human intuition or clairvoyance skills, but this is also a fantasy.

  • Perhaps they meant the fusion of man and machine. – Cees Timmerman Mar 12 '14 at 10:21
  • I like this explanation it explains the other two oddities. Why use humans instead of cattle, and why not lobotomies humans at birth, and keep them just brain dead – Andrey Jul 17 '15 at 20:04
  • It simulates the 1990's so most of the brain goes unused. – Lodewijk Feb 11 '18 at 16:26
7

The short story "Goliath" included on the Matrix website and in the Matrix Comics (Volume 1) indicates that in addition to using humans as batteries, they're also being using people's brains as secondary computer processors and memory storage.

""What's going on?" I asked. "Do you know?"

"Enemy missile took out a central processing unit," he [the Agent] said. "Two hundred thousand people, hooked up in parallel, blown to dead meat ... You're just free-floating here for a couple of nanoseconds, while we get London processing again."

A full text can be found here.

Since the machines are obliged to keep the humans alive, it makes perfect sense to attempt to use them as a power source. Morpheus makes it clear that it's not just the BTUs produced by the human occupants but also a novel form of fusion that produces the power.

5

As, it is clear from @M.K.'s answer, power generation is not possible from human body. However, I think there are other questions raised by your question that need to be addressed:

Why would machines leave humans alive? is there any other reason apart from being a power source why humans would be left alive by machines?

Ans. The machines are not so Idiotic as to ignore creatures as ours selves that have the capabilities of learning, sensing and creating, just by killing them. They would certainly invest a lot of their resources in understanding us and how we function. They might be looking for processing power too from human brains as suggested by @RoguePlanetoid in his comment. No matter how you look at it, Human race would be much more valuable to the machines alive, than dead.

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    They signed the peace treaty, and pride themselves on being more reasonable than humans. "Agent Smith: The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from." and "The Oracle: I have your word? The Architect: What do you think I am? Human?" – Cees Timmerman Mar 12 '14 at 10:32
  • pride is a human notion. also, I am talking about why would machines let some population of humans live if not for power consumption. try to answer that... – MozenRath Jan 27 '15 at 14:24
  • War is an inefficient use of resources. Humans, for all their flaws, are still capable of providing cheap massively parallel computing, and make for interesting test subjects. Goliath proved human brains capable of defeating advanced beings in outer space. – Cees Timmerman Jan 27 '15 at 14:56
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It seems far-fetched that human body heat would be worth the machines' time in comparison to other sources of energy. Nuclear is the obvious choice, but geothermal might work as well. Wind might be a good choice considering the surface is in a state of perpetual storm. You could even put solar panels on balloons to get above the clouds. All of these are far more practical than feeding humans and capturing their waste heat.

However, it's not completely impossible for the human pod setup to be a net energy gain for the machines. Consider that Morpheus is certainly wrong about his dates in the first movie. The Architect tells Neo about 6 full cycles of Zion growing from a handful of people to a teeming city, but Morpheus thinks that the war only happened a hundred years ago. Human civilization might be much older than Morpheus believes. Maybe at humanity's collapse, the Earth had a population of trillions. That's a lot of bodies lying around. Yes it would be smarter to burn them as fuel, but they could be used to keep a smaller population of humans alive for a very long time. It might occur to a machine that, since they're keeping people alive anyway, they might as well capture the waste heat and use it.

Why keep that population of humans alive though? Maybe the machines in charge have something like the First Law of Robotics, and they're incapable of completely wiping out the human race.

Many people in the comments have also pointed out that there's little reason to believe that humans are kept for their waste heat anyway. Morpheus thinks it's true, but he's not right about much of anything, is he? We might be used for our processing power instead. Or, if the Architect is lying about him needing humanity, humanity might just be pets, or somehow convenient to a player in AI politics.

4

It would be for a short time, if the machines did their work efficiently enough.

They'd have to have minimal (negligible) costs for Liquifying, Growing, Transporting, Simulating the Matrix for human beings.

The machines are perfect computers, so maybe they could do that. Then you'd be left with a very rapidly declining population, as energy is wasted in humans by radiating heat, moving (and thinking) and the inefficiency of digestion.

As the machines are perfect computers, yes they might have found they could extract energy this way for a couple of years. Someone do the math to find out how long precisely.

The machines would somehow have to have a reason for not being more efficient about all this biomatter, as surely the overhead is not better than having a customized biomachine do the processing.

3

I base this answer on nothing more than the thoughts I had while I watched The Matrix for the very first time.

As many previous answers mentioned, the idea of the human body providing machine energy is ludicrous (you can get a rough feel for the efficiency of an energy source by how hot it gets - aka thermal efficiency). I always assumed this was the machines spreading disinformation and that we'd eventually discover that the answer was a lie.

But consider that in The Matrix movie we observe that at some point humans did create AI. Suppose that AI wished to reproduce and discovered it did not know the secrets that humans used to create the AIs.

Why then it might make sense for that AI to plug humans (who did eventually solve the problem) into an environment that simulates the environment in which they originally solved that particular problem. Since this time the machines are watching, then they will discover how humans solve the problem of creating new AIs when they create a new one in the matrix.

My solution provides a very neat and scientifically interesting plot twist to the original The Matrix movie but it blows the sequels out of the water :(

but I never liked those anyway...

2

Alright we know it's less efficient than other sources but in the machine world the sky has been blocked out so natural food sources don't exist and you need energy to produce more. When the uprising began, it was a way to control and use the humans at the same time en masse since there were probably 10 million or more in this future and the life span of the human in this condition provides a stable source of power. I'm sure a machine by logic would choose to put them to use for what little power they could, rather than to just kill. How do we know they did not have other resources at hand?

  • 3
    The words look like English, but I can't make any sense of the answer. Try writing grammatical sentences, with punctuation? – user56 Aug 29 '12 at 20:57
2

Morpheus declares that a "human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120 Volt battery and over 25,000 BTUs of body heat". This is a nonsensical statement as voltage is a measure of electrical potential, not power; voltage, by itself, says nothing about the actual capacity to do work. As for the heat claim, there are tables which show that a person produces somewhere between 340 and 1400 BTU/hr, depending on level of activity. The number used by Morpheus might be a nominal value for a day, but as a "fact", it is inaccurate and/or incomplete.

To be confirmed, but apparently the original concept was use of humans as components of a biological computer - some sort of hive mind. Likely, the concept got dumbed down by either a studio exec or an uninformed writer, and mixed up with the true fact that an average adult human at rest produces about 100 Watts of heat (true fact used in air conditioning load calculations). Incandescent light bulbs have been commonly available in 100W ratings, inviting comparison, but it probably sounded better in scripting to draw a comparison to a battery (energy source) than a light bulb (energy consumer).

Apart from the impracticality of harvesting heat from people as an energy source (why not use cattle instead? - they have less propensity to rebel), there is the question of what you feed these people (or cattle) on when the solar energy needed to grow crops has been blocked ("scorched the sky"). Morpheus' exposition is really rather absurd on several levels. Best to just go with it and enjoy Neo's journey without asking too many questions.

1

The other answers are good but do not take into account a certain striking highly legitimate/relevant scientific angle, have long noted the following but never seen anyone else point it out.

Thermodynamics and physics are certainly relevant/useful/compelling concepts to analyze this question (and the robotics in the movie tends to steer thinking/interpretations in this direction), but in some ways is misleading. There is a key concept from biology that is highly relevant:

Parasitology!

In other words, in stark specifics, to mix biological and technological metaphors [but exactly as the movie does], a model for the movie is that its a bizarre robotic-human parasite interface, where the human race is the host and the robotic race is the parasite "species". This interface sounds weird but it is also the basis of the theory of "cybernetics" aka termed by one "the marriage of man and machine" (and related to the origins of the word cyberspace).

A relatively new book on this subject by Zimmer, Parasite Rex,[1] documents how there has recently been a real/total Kuhnian paradigm shift (mass/systematized rethinking) in biology on this subject. parasites are now known to alter the behavior of their host in key ways. the parasite extracts energy from its host but not in so much an obvious way but in an indirect way (eg parasite feeding off host blood, which houses stored energy). also up to a staggering 3/5ths of all species on earth have parasitic aspects, that is, it is the basic mechanism (of life/energy extraction) employed by the majority of life on earth.

So far it is not thought that many parasites are "designed/optimized" (evolved) to focus primarily on human hosts [ie we believe we are at the "top of the food chain" as the saying goes], but one certainly wonders! A semi scientifically plausible candidate is as follows! the parasite Toxoplasma gondii is estimated to infect up to ~30% of the entire human population. (and how much does this ~2.5B host count compare to its other hosts, cats and rats?)

It cannot reproduce sexually in the human host but it can reproduce asexuallly in humans! toxoplasma can be transmitted vertically from pregnant mother to child! T. gondii is thought to be mostly dormant in the human, although it is now documented to alter human behavior. it is implicated as a linked factor in schizophrenia. scientists admit that there is much unknown about T.gondii & overall study of it is in many ways still in early stages.

Another striking example/video of a parasite controlling the behavior of a insect host, the fungus parasite in rain forests, and thereby extracting energy almost as if the host is its battery.[2]

Yet another key element that no other answers point out: human slavery has existed for countless millenia, probably as long as humanity has, and slavery persists to this day around the world. The most simple analogy is that the robotic species has enslaved the human race. Slavery is once again an indirect harnessing of energy of one individual by another. Of course there are also strong parallels between parasites and slavery such that parasites are said to enslave their hosts in almost all senses of the word.

Even in western civilization slavery is thought to be banished, but a more subtle but very similar form of wage slavery is extremely widespread and at record levels as revealed through statistics on economic inequality. These are somewhat more abstract analogies, but the economic system is an energy system and slavery is a harnessing/extraction of energy through the economic realm.

[1] Parasite Rex: Inside the bizarre world of nature's most dangerous creatures

[2] Absurd Creature of the Week: The Zombie Ant and the Fungus That Controls Its Mind

  • similar economic concepts indentured servant, debt bondage with individuals and debt slavery happening on the level of entire nations. parasite effects on hosts is also compared informally as/to zombiefication and/or mind control – vzn Mar 14 '14 at 16:48
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    What does this have to do with explaining how it could make sense for the machines to use humans as energy sources? Parasites do get energy from their hosts, but it always has to be less than the energy their hosts get from other sources. And slaves were not used as energy sources, but to do physical jobs more cheaply than hired labor or machines could do the same jobs. – Hypnosifl Dec 31 '15 at 22:46
  • The main contradiction here is that, in the case of The Matrix, parasites (machines) are feeding their hosts (humans). – default locale Apr 8 at 11:40
1

Humans weren't originally supposed to be batteries. In the original script, the humans' brains were supposed to be all wired together (kind of like the Borg collective) and the collective thoughts of all the humans acted like the internet, thus creating the Matrix. There was no central or "mainframe" computer running it. This is why too many humans couldn't be unplugged, it would disrupt/destroy the Matrix. The production company felt it would be to confusing for movie goers, and forced the Wachowskis to change it. That's how they came up with the battery concept, which as others have pointed out, wouldn't work. In The Animatrix, it showed that the whole reason behind the creation of the Matrix was a deal that was struck between the human and machine leaders, after humans lost the war. The humans surrendered, and the machines agreed to construct the Matrix so humanity would not be extinct.

  • 2
    I've heard this before, but do you have a reference for it? – sumelic Sep 1 '16 at 20:20
0

Wow, what a lot of answers already! Anyway, no, what we see in the movie flat-out wouldn't work. Our brains don't produce THAT much electricity, and if they were siphoning it off to run stuff, then our brains wouldn't function properly, or at all. IOW, take some of our electricity, and the whole brain stops working.

  • 2
    Although you're not wrong, this isn't an answer to the question asked. – Valorum May 2 '16 at 22:47
  • @Richard Other than the first sentence, how is it not an answer? Question: "is X feasible?" Answer: "no, it flat-out wouldn't work because Y." – Rand al'Thor May 2 '16 at 23:07
  • @Randal'Thor - Because that's not how brains work :-) – Valorum May 3 '16 at 0:09
  • @Richard Doesn't that make it a wrong answer rather than a non-answer? (I know little about either The Matrix or biology, so I may be missing something.) – Rand al'Thor May 3 '16 at 0:11
  • @Randal'Thor - Morpheus states that the human body produces "more bio- electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 B.T.U.'s of body heat.". At no point does he talk about removing energy from the person's brain. It's a fine distinction, but it pushes this answer from poor into non-existent (in my humble opinion). That said, it's up to you to decide whether to splat it or just leave it to rot in the corner :-) – Valorum May 3 '16 at 0:18
-4

As a person that loves movies, I know that movies will often get some details wrong either intentionally (artistic license) or accidentally. Some of those details can be very significant. Therefore, for each movie or movie series, I grant the story its own pocket universe with little concern as to how close to reality that universe is. If the movie (or series) is at least internally consistent, then I don't mind if the creator took liberties or made errors. I think that you are making an error in trying to match up a sci-fi/fantasy movie with the laws of physics as we know them.

You might as well be asking if it is reasonable for the time machine in Back to the Future to be capable of compensating for Earth's rotation, Earth's orbit of the Sun, starsystem drift, galaxy drift, and so on. Of course it's not reasonable. But without it, the whole story falls apart. Therefore, the story is granted its own pocket universe in which to exist, and we all enjoy the story.

Long story short, I reject the premise of the question. You're trying to apply the rules of reality onto a pocket universe that may not bother with a fair number of such rules, so I'd personally say the question doesn't have a leg to stand on. Now, if you'd asked the question on Physics SE, that'd be a different case...

  • There are several completely different things here. First, time machines (and warp drives, pocket dimensions, portals, etc.) are pure fantasy. So of course any details related to them are made up. Second, human bodies and their heat generation are not at all fantasy. In fact, they're pretty well understood. Accepting the former as a plot device to make the rest of the show work is totally different than accepting the latter rather than criticize writers who make zero attempts at doing their homework. Third, artistic license only works if it exaggerates something that's otherwise plausible. – MichaelS Oct 28 '16 at 0:12
  • Finally, there's a huge difference between saying "this movie is total garbage and you're stupid for watching it" because of a stupid premise, and discussing how plausible that premise really is. This question is doing the latter. – MichaelS Oct 28 '16 at 0:14
  • @MichaelS So, to disprove my concept, you're using the fact that the movie may have been miscategorized as Sci-Fi instead of Fantasy. Does that mean that Back to the Future was also miscategorized and invalidate all discussion about both? What humans don't know is a lot more than humans do know. And, a lot of what we "know" is really communal faith. (much like flat-earth nonsense, which seems to be reemerging) So, the distinction between Sci-Fi and Fantasy is a lot more blurry than even we know. – killermist Mar 5 '18 at 9:22
-7

The factual answer is absolutely!

E=mc^2

For a 70 kilogram adult, you're talking 6.3 × 1018 joules by E=mc2.

That's 6×1015 btu, or 1.7×1012 kilowatt-hours.

That is enough energy to power the entire US for 16 years (which is way more efficient that nuclear power. The problem with this is that we currently have no way of accessing or harnessing this power. It is not unreasonable to assume that machines sophisticated enough to create the matrix in the 1st place would have solved this energy access problem.

Considering that the original question is,"Is the basic premise of of humans as a power source in The Matrix reasonable?" Not asking how or why the machines used humans as a power source. The answer is yes, every form matter in the universe contains energy which can be converted into power.

  • 8
    This only makes sense if by "use humans as an energy source" you mean "use humans as fuel in a matter-antimatter reaction." But this isn't anything like what the machines are doing (and in any case, it'd make just as much sense to use any other 70-kg mass). – Micah Jan 24 '14 at 22:41
  • @Micah Possibly but how do you know how they are using the humans? How do you know that they don't grow the humans to the most cost/effective size and then use them as fuel? It is never established how they are using humans as fuel but only that they are constantly growing humans. – xXGrizZ Jan 24 '14 at 22:55
  • @Micah As to your 2nd point, It is known that the machines have some form of feelings otherwise they would never have fought against humans enslaving them in the 1st place (as established in the Animatrix.) Additionally, like you say it would make just as much sense for them to use any mass; why not use a blue whale or elephant? They have more energy than humans and would certainly be easier to control (how hard would it have been to create a giant aquarium matrix?) They used humans because the have a grudge against them. – xXGrizZ Jan 24 '14 at 23:00
  • 5
    Utter nonsense. If they could turn matter into energy, they would rather do it from a 70-kg stone, without building such a large and nonsensical facility to feed and imprison humans. And if they "have a grudge" against humans, they can kill them all and then grab their energy more efficiently and effectively from stones. The idea of using humans to produce energy is just stupid. – gd1 Feb 8 '15 at 18:36

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