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In all of the Matrix movies, we only see three Agents at a time (Brown, Jones and Smith in the original and Jackson, Johnson and Thompson in the sequels).

Why are there only three? The Matrix being a software system, loading new instances of programs should be trivial for the machines rather than having three instances running around trying to catch both rebels and exiles. I can understand why three would be enough before Neo, but after the defeat of Agent Smith in the first movie, the machines could have increased the number.

Or, are there actually more than three, say in other parts of the world within the Matrix? If rebels show up in China, would Agents that look like Chinese secret service agents (probably called Ching, Ling and Wong) pursue them?

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    Process "Agent" is eating too much RAM. – Zikato May 30 '16 at 5:26
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    @Zikato kill ps -A|awk '/agent/{print $1}' – SynchronizeYourDogma Feb 23 '17 at 4:58
18

Based on an answer from Why didn't the Agents take over or displace the Policemen?:

As best I remember, once a person is taken over, they're gone. If cops disappear every time Agents show up, it'll make it harder and harder to work with them. It'll lead to cops trying to handle the situations themselves and trying to keep Agents out of the picture.

Three agents is probably a number the Matrix came up with after some trial-and-error: A good balance of "man"power while keeping the number of disappearing people low.

The Matrix does seem to regularly upgrade the Agents after major events:

After Neo's transfiguration into The One, the Matrix retrieves agents Brown and Jones and deploys the upgraded agents Jackson, Johnson, and Thompson. The One's special abilities make defeating any agent, upgraded or not, practically effortless in comparison to any redpill that attempts to do so.

After the Matrix rebooted, newer forms of Agents came into existence, including the Red-Eye Agents. Another agent that was introduced into the Matrix was Agent Pace, the first female agent.

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    "As best I remember, once a person is taken over, they're gone." - is that sourced canonically anywhere? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 17 '12 at 16:53
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    The answer to Tango's question explicitly excludes "Agent leaving voluntarily" scenario - it merely says what happens if the agent dies in the body. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 17 '12 at 17:02
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    Thinking about Tango's answer is what lead me to this question in the first place. If people die when an agent leaves, the final chase in the original movie should have left a trail of bodies in the wake of agent Smith. Unless the matrix has cleanup crews, this becomes increasingly difficult to explain. – HNL Mar 18 '12 at 3:28
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    @HNL There is the Animatrix short "Beyond", where a cleanup crew fixes bugs in the Matrix, but I suppose that doesn't exactly apply to removing bodies... – Izkata Mar 18 '12 at 4:12
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    The idea that people disappear after being possessed is contradicted but multiple stories. Examples include the case in the comic Wrong Number and the examples from this answer. – Null Nov 25 '14 at 23:25
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There are more than three Agents

Although we only see three Agents at a time in the films, it does not follow that there are only three Agents in the entire Matrix. Outside of the films there are other Agents.

The following named Agents did not appear in the films but appear in The Matrix Comics:

  1. Agent Ash (appeared in "Day In...Day Out")
  2. Agent Bird (appeared in "Day In...Day Out")
  3. Agent White (appeared in "Day In...Day Out")
  4. Agent Finn (appeared in "A Path Among Stones")
  5. Agent (John) Fine (appeared in "System Freeze")

Agent Finn is notable since he worked with Agent Jones (who does appear in The Matrix). Agent Fine is notable for your question about Agents appearing in other parts of the world since he appears on Mount Everest.

The following named Agents did not appear in the films but appeared in The Matrix Online:

  1. Agent Adams
  2. Agent Alexander
  3. Agent Campbell
  4. Agent Davis
  5. Agent Gray
  6. Agent Griffin
  7. Agent Harris
  8. Agent Jenkins
  9. Agent Moore
  10. Agent Pace
  11. Agent Perry
  12. Agent Peterson
  13. Agent Skinner
  14. Agent Taylor
  15. Agent Thorne
  16. Agent Torman
  17. Agent West

This list is derived from the list of miscellaneous Agents in The Matrix Online on the Matrix Wiki. Most of these Agents existed at the same time, so there were more than three in existence at one time.

One might argue that it's possible Agents were deleted as new ones were created so that the total number of Agents never exceeded three. However, barring unusual circumstances there is no reason to delete an Agent. Agents have purpose as long as there is a need for any Agent, so all existing Agents would have a purpose and none would be flagged for deletion.

Additionally, Agents Brown and Jones existed until the events of The Matrix Online, which means they existed during the events of The Matrix Reloaded -- which in turn means that there were at least five active Agents during the events of The Matrix Reloaded even though we only saw three.

Why do we only see three Agents in the films?

Agents are tasked with eliminating threats from both Zion operatives and Exiles. There are many Zion ships -- all of which can jack crew members into the Matrix -- so there are many Zion operatives to be dealt with by Agents. Since Zion ships operate mostly independently these threats must be dealt with potentially all over the world. Exiles can also be found potentially all over the world. Agents therefore have a lot of ground to cover.

At the same time, Agents are very powerful programs and can easily fight Zion operatives or Exiles alone or in small teams (as we see in the films), especially with support from bluepill policemen. Consequently, there was no need for additional Agents to join the fight against the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar in The Matrix (it was just one Zion crew among many others). The team of three upgraded Agents was likely tasked specifically to deal with Neo in The Matrix Reloaded since they were probably the only upgraded Agents, and all the other Agents would have had no chance against Neo.

Combining these two facts, it makes sense that Agents appear to work either alone or in teams of up to three -- there are many threats to deal with, and not many Agents are needed for each threat. Thus, in The Matrix we saw one team of three led by Agent Smith and in The Matrix Reloaded we saw a team of upgraded Agents led by Agent Johnson.

Of course, out of universe, the reason is that the use of only three Agents requires only three actors.

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    I see they included Skinner, but I'm rather disappointed to see there's no Agent Mulder or Agent Scully. – Omegacron Jan 27 '15 at 20:45
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    This is the answer that makes the most sense, it should be the accepted one. – gaborous Jun 24 '15 at 3:36
8

For the same reason you don't send in a SWAT team to handle a traffic violation, its expensive, disruptive overkill and people don't like it (and the US cities who do that are learning the hard way). And the game is rigged anyway.

Expensive: The Matrix is software, and in theory they could inject as many Agents as they like, but we don't know how expensive it is to run an Agent. The Machines have a fixed power budget and will want to be as efficient as possible with it. (Can I hand-wave away the lavish and pointless life-styles of other programs as sequel drek? No? Ok... they're all hiding as parasitic programs...)

Disruptive: The sole purpose of the Matrix is to fool humanity into believing it is reality for the Machines to produce power. Agents go to some length to allow plausible deniability, even fitting ideas of Human "Men In Black" conspiracy theories. Every time an Agent takes over a body or performs a superhuman feat it risks disrupting the lie, it risks harming the "crop".

Overkill: Until Neo, nobody has ever defeated an Agent, and even Neo can barely handle one until his transformation at the end of The Matrix. One Agent will do if all that's necessary is to fight. Agents also search, coordinate with normal people, and chase, so just one Agent won't do.

The Game Is Rigged, Goldilocks The Machines don't want to kill The One, they need The One. To find The One they need Zion. The Machines must allow some humans to escape. They can't make it too easy, or too many people will escape and the people of Zion will be suspicious. They can't make it too hard, or not enough people will escape to form Zion and find The One. Three Agents at a time is just enough.

The Machines would have to strike a balance between Agent effectiveness, cost of running Agents, risk of harming the crop, allowing a trickle of people to escape, and risk of killing The One. A three person team is a very flexible unit and a likely compromise. Once The One appeared for sure, The Machines responded with Upgraded Agents with more license to bend the rules and deal with red-pills, but remained no match for The One (a sort of trial by combat). Even after Neo refused The Architect's offer, they still were not seriously trying to kill him. Maybe they were hoping he would change his mind. Maybe they were hoping to blackmail him with a defeated Zion held hostage. Maybe they were just slow to adapt (The One refusing the Architect's offer appears to have never happened before).

(The parts of this which I consider canon are that Agents are disruptive, that three is generally more than sufficient to deal with red-pills, and that The Machines are not actually trying to kill The One for most of the trilogy. The rest is speculation.)

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I think it's based on the 333 concept. The fact that each agent was potentially as strong as %33.33 infinite, of Neo's strength. Meaning if all attacked him at once it would be the evil's 99.99 infinite % influence, against Neo's 99.99 infinite % influence and that it would come down to who has the more desperation and right over the instance as to who will win. Neo being a creature, is not of math and therefore has more power over math, if he so chooses and is capable. Great attention to detail fella. I had not noticed until now, having read your comment.

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    This seems like an answer, yet you mention someone's comment; is this an attempt to reply to someone rather than post an answer? – Möoz Feb 23 '17 at 4:26

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