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Apart from the black suit and glasses, an earpiece is one part of the iconic attire of Agent Smith. Throughout the movies we can see him wearing it all the time.

as seen here

But during the famous interrogation scene we see him taking the earpiece out. My question is; what is the purpose of that earpiece and what could he possibly be hearing?

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    To block out the smell – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 18 '17 at 12:44
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    Possibly useful: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/117116/… – FuzzyBoots Jan 18 '17 at 14:30
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    Also worth keeping in mind that the style of earpiece worn by Agent Smith is (or was) popular with actual government agents in the US who wear them on field operations for communications purposes. So, in addition to whatever fictional purpose it plays, it also makes Matrix agents look like government agents (along with the cheap suits, short haircuts and so on). – HopelessN00b Jan 18 '17 at 17:19
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    @HopelessN00b I seem to recall seeing those earpieces on U.S. Secret Service (Presidential protection) fairly recently, so I'd assume they're still somewhat common in such roles. – reirab Jan 18 '17 at 19:38
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    5-word answer: communication device with central control. based on common sense. – n611x007 Jan 19 '17 at 3:22
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The earpiece represents both an figurative and, apparently, actual connection between the Agent programs and the Matrix mainframe. You can see at multiple points in the movie, an Agent will receive information from their earpiece directing them where the humans are. They also likely receive orders the same way.

(In "real" computer programming the earpiece might be implemented as a socket or a message pipe, something like that.)

Inside the Matrix universe, it's how the Agents can appear to know things they can't possibly know, without arousing the suspicions of the plugged-in humans. When a homeless guy sees someone escape the Matrix through a phone, an agent blocks away immediately finds out because the Matrix tells him in his earpiece.

From a beneath-the-Matrix perspective, it appears that the earpiece is the only direct connection the Agents have to their controlling program. When Smith removes his earpiece, he's disconnecting himself from the Matrix just a little bit. Partly, this may be just to avoid distraction, but it's also symbolic -- he's sick of the Matrix and wants it to go away, and he's about to do something that is probably counter to his orders. So he's separating himself as much as possible from the Matrix.

Note that, when the other Agents come in to get Smith during the rescue attempt, one of them notes his earpiece is out, and remarks that Smith doesn't know that Neo and Trinity are trying to rescue Morpheus. Without the earpiece, Smith was no longer receiving intel on the humans, even though he should have been alerted immediately. This fits with the general principle that the Matrix programs are written to be as realistic as possible, even when it might seem counter-productive, because keeping the illusion intact is paramount. The Architect seems willing to even build in flaws to his program to avoid breaking the illusion.

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    Some more supporting evidence of this is found at the start of Reloaded - Smith sends package containing his now-unused earpiece to Neo, stating that Neo "set him free". – DavidS Jan 18 '17 at 14:02
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    Going with your idea that it is an abstraction of a connection, the agent's ability to temporarily close it may be a security feature - it allows the agents to devote computing resources spent listening to the connection on something else if necessary, and also allows them to close it if an adversary finds a way to send them data through it and attempts to DOS the agent. In the abstract, it allows them to concentrate better in the first scenario and take it off if Neo starts playing the Spice Girls discography through it. – IllusiveBrian Jan 18 '17 at 15:05
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    @Michael Hah, now I am too! But please don’t abuse code formatting for quotation; use quotation marks for that. Code formatting tells the computer that the text is code, not regular writing, and for some alternative browsers (e.g. screen readers for the blind), attempts to read the text as code can make it quite difficult to understand as writing (e.g. reading it letter-by-letter is not unheard of). For accessibility’s sake, please use it only for the kinds of things it was designed for. – KRyan Jan 18 '17 at 18:50
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    @n611x007 after watching the computer industry for around 50 years, I highly doubt that sockets will be supplanted in the next 200. If some continuation of this civilization is still computing on this planet at that time, I bet if you dig deep enough you'll find sockets. And stacks and log files and IEEE floating point. – Spike0xff Jan 19 '17 at 5:15
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    @n611x007: In computer science, sockets and pipes are concepts for how agents (as in "entities with more or less autonomous behaviour", not just "agents of The Matrix") can communicate with each other. They're both (relatively) primitive and flexible which makes it very likely that machines and their creators are going to use and reuse these concepts for a very long time even if each system implements them differently. There's a good reason why all mature general-purpose operating systems use them even if they share no common history. – David Foerster Jan 19 '17 at 12:20
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@KutuluMike gave a great answer, but note also that the earpiece appears to exert some level of control over the agents as well. The agents seem to be incapable of completely removing the earpiece. It is one thing for Smith to pull it out of his ear, but another thing entirely for him to remove it from his person completely. As @DavidS points out, Smith removes it completely in Reloaded, with the comment that Neo had set him free. This implies that before struggling with Neo, Smith was incapable of removing the earpiece. This is, of course, when he begins down the path toward domination of the Matrix rather than submission to it. The implication is that the earpiece keeps agents in check in a more profound way than simply giving them orders. Somehow it compels them to follow the orders they are given. Even if the compulsion is built into the agent to follow all orders it receives, removing the earpiece gives them no orders to be compelled to follow.

This is more speculative, but it has always seemed to me that in addition to providing information and issuing orders, the device also works for surveillance (in the Matrix, it doesn't matter if the earpiece doesn't have a microphone on it; the appearance of the device is simply for the convenience of the people/programs in the Matrix, and making it appear to be merely an earpiece might convince them they aren't being listened to). Smith removes it in The Matrix when he begins to talk about his disdain for the Matrix, in much the same way you might hit the mute button before saying something nasty to the person on the other end of the phone. Though the Matrix itself would know everything either way, as Cipher puts it, "there's way too much information to decode the Matrix." The machines who the agents serve might not be able to isolate Smith's speech and decode it in real time without the earpiece.

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    pretty wild theory. is this a personal one? if so how did you arrive on it? – n611x007 Jan 19 '17 at 3:24
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    appearance of the device is simply for the convenience sounds like an assumption to me. – n611x007 Jan 19 '17 at 3:25
  • Though the Matrix itself would know everything either way also an assumption now with less basis. were it to be true, explain why Thompson and Brown did not know that Smith removed the earpiece? explain Beyond in the Animatrix? explain how Morpheus hides in the out-of-use hotel, for long enough to have those rooms set up, without getting noticed until Cipher gives out the information? to be frank I don't think this assumption stands. – n611x007 Jan 19 '17 at 3:26
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    @Lilienthal I'd say "on the contrary". Devsman's theory is indeed quite wild, but completely supported by the film material - mostly because it doesn't contradict it in any way and because it fits in the general Matrix scheme. FWIW, Wachowsky's never had any real strong idea as to "why" - they've made things the way they are because they considered them "cool", and they changed previously assumed things numerous times during the development of the saga (by retconning of varying quality) for the very same reason. As such, I'm with Devsman on this one - it's a theory, but a fun one. – vaxquis Jan 21 '17 at 14:20
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    @Lilienthal let me challange that. Smith choose to hand over his earpiece to Neo as "a message". The message is so conscise it had to have high value of significance. What can you make of that message? I do not need the system? I can act on my own? Maybe he could remove the earpiece but certainly wouldn't have wandered around without it. In a sense Devsman is a bit too far-going in formulating this implication but there is still something in it, is there not? – n611x007 Jan 22 '17 at 0:02
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There's a scene where Agent Smith has been interrogating Morpheus. Two other agents come in and one asks him what he's been doing. The other notices his earpiece is out and tells the other Agent Smith doesn't know (what's going on, such as the building being under attack). Clearly the earpiece is for communication as demonstrated by Smith being out of the loop when he takes his out and the other agent recognizing and acknowledging that.

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I have to agree with the observation that the earpiece is most likely the matrix' only way of using its all knowing power and having the agents implement the corrections needed without enslaved humans getting privvy to the notion of an all powerful force changing and doing what it wants whenever it wants.

The reason why Thompson and Brown didnt know is because Smith disconnected by taking out the earpiece. The most "flexible" or inconsistent parts of the matrix by design of the matrix are the agent. They have to follow rules within the matrix but because they've got all the info of the matrix they're able control as much as is shown throughout the series.

In regards to the Hideout motel that Morpheus uses, that is what Tank or whomever is the "Operator"s Job. They are to hack into the matrix and write new code in there seamlessly to alter certain areas of the matrix that Morpheus and crew can hijack for a limited time. Which time in the matrix is not consistent with the real world so what a motel for possibly weeks is actually instantaneous when hacked. At a certain point the matrix sees the hack and autocorrects and we also see that the matrix/agents attempt to even break the rules a bit in terms of deja vu and having the brick wall cover the exit or the random people morphing into agents. Too much and they have to start the matrix over.

An all knowing all powerful matrix truly running the show with absolute power and no rules would awaken or at the very least distress the humans that are sleeping making for bad batteries. As implied when the matrix was talking to neo.

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