We humans often debate if artificial intelligence, no matter how smart it gets, can ever be called "alive". Similarly, we have debates about viruses being alive or not. One thing that no one questions is that we're alive.

This makes the scene in The Matrix, where Agent Smith compares humanity to a virus, particularly ironic. He could have said something like "disease", but virus is even more derogatory, since he's questioning if we're even alive.

Do you think this irony was inserted by the writers on purpose as a means to have us self-reflect? Or is it just a coincidence?

  • We should also note that computers can have viruses. Dec 24 '21 at 6:22

Note that Smith actually did call humanity a disease as well.

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we... are the cure

It seems unlikely that Smith is refering to any specific attribute that applies to a virus, that doesn't also apply to a disease, cancer or plague.

It may be that this speech was foreshadowing for later movies, when Agent Smith starts to act like a computer virus, infecting the Matrix and multiplying. Virus carries connotations of 'computer virus', which may be why it gets listed first by Smith.

  • 2
    Smith is wrong, by the way. Mammals only achieve balance if there are predators involved. Ask Australians about invasive species (like cute, "harmless" bunnies.)
    – JRE
    Jun 22 '18 at 7:43
  • 1
    Well, his analogy might make more sense in that animals normally reach an equilibrium in their ecosystem because they can only change through evolution so fast. Humans are different in that they change so quickly, through the use of better and better technology, that most of the natural world cannot keep up. But there ARE things in nature that can change so fast year to year that technology can't entirely keep up with THEM. And that's viruses.
    – Kai
    Jun 22 '18 at 14:42
  • Smith is a pernicious and overly-generalizing sociopathic villain — his opinions should carry no weight with humanity and is a poor mouthpiece for human viewers of the Matrix films inclined towards self-reflection. Dec 23 '21 at 20:37

I'd argue that Smith is lying. Remember, his purpose in the scene is to extract information. He is not saying anything to be truthful, just enough so Morpheus will spill his beans about Zion's mainframe codes. I believe the virus comparison applies more to the machines who destroyed the planet and endlessly consume humans for energy, like true viruses.

On a more thematic level, this is a critique of capitalism. The machines and the Matrix itself are representations of the systems that surround us. The Matrix is constructed after a period of great prosperity, and the Agents themselves are personified as federal agents. They are a part of the system and are created by machines that consume endlessly and destroy the world. Humanity, therefore, becomes the fight to return to equilibrium with nature. Smith says humans are the ones who threw off the equilibrium, but it's the systems powerful people designed, rather than humanity, that are the true problem.

I also think that this could refer to deviant people, as The Matrix is also an allegory for being transgender, so Smith could represent a white, male, capitalist system squashing autonomy to live the life you want and this freedom must be stopped. To defy labels and categories like 'virus' is humanity, not the virus itself.

  • 1
    "Smith says humans are the ones who threw off the equilibrium, but it's the systems powerful people designed, rather than humanity, that are the true problem." This seems like a distinction without a difference -- if people designed systems (and the machines!) that are a problem, then people ("humanity") are the root cause of the problem.
    – Null
    Dec 23 '21 at 20:34

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