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When Agent Smith is destroyed by Neo, how can he survive, how can he still exist? Do some or all machines have a physical body? Smith gives a rough explanation, but that simply explains that it was both unexpected by him to be destroyed and to survive this:

Something that I knew was impossible, but it happened anyway. You destroyed me, Mr. Anderson. Afterward, I knew the rules, I understood what I was supposed to do, but I didn't. I couldn't. I was compelled to stay. Compelled to disobey. And now here I stand because of you, Mr Anderson. Because of you, I'm no longer an agent of this system. Because of you, I'm changed, unplugged, a new man, so to speak, like you, apparently free.

So, what happened?

  • free will? Agent Smith was an awesome character. – dylan murphy Jun 26 '12 at 20:21
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    It could be that when programs are destroyed in the Matrix, they are supposed to be deleted from wherever they are stored. Maybe because of Agent Smith being so corrupted, he could not be destroyed like normal. – Andrew Piliser Jun 26 '12 at 20:27
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    @AndrewPiliser hash code changed? :) – n611x007 Jun 26 '12 at 20:29
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    Smith was caught by a debugger just after his core dump... – Sardathrion Jun 28 '12 at 8:34
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The recurring theme in The Matrix trilogy is a single word: choice.

Neo does not "believe" he is The One, and does not exert himself as if he can remake the Matrix as he sees fit, per Morpheus's description of what the defining trait of The One is. It is only when he is faced with the fork of pulling the plug on Morpheus or attempting to save him does he start to realize it himself.

"The Oracle... she told me this would happen, she told me... that I would have to make a choice." - Neo

Later Morpheus reinforces this idea, before Neo can express his self-doubt:

"Neo, sooner or later you're going to realize just as I did that there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path." - Morpheus, to Neo

Finally, when faced with what should be the no-brainer decision of running from Agent Smith, he stops. He stops because he can; he does not believe himself to be The One, he does not question that this Agent can physically best him, but he stops because he can. In the movie's final minutes, Neo stops the bullets from the guns of the united Agents with a single word, defends himself from Agent Smith's attempted attack with only one arm and rejects him with a single kick. We cannot know what he is experiencing at this point, but he appears to simply be choosing to deny what is happening around him. Bullets fly; he rejects their premise of inertia (it doesn't exist anyway, at least not in the Matrix). Smith attacks; he spends no effort in retaliating, his expression is focused and calm. He simply chooses not to be hit.

Later in the series we see that Smith is alive and well, and has a compulsion for disobedience. He insists this is the result of copied or overwritten data:

Smith: I don't fully understand how it happened, perhaps some part of you imprinted on to me, something overwritten or copied, it is at this point irrelevant. What matters is whatever happened, happened for a reason.

Neo: And what reason is that?

Smith: I killed you Mr. Anderson, I watched you die, with a certain satisfaction I might add. And then something happened. Something that I knew was impossible but it happened anyway. You destroyed me Mr. Anderson. Afterward, I knew the rules, I understood what I was supposed to do, but I didn't. I couldn't. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey. And now here I stand because of you Mr. Anderson, because of you, I am no longer an Agent of this system, because of you I've changed, I'm unplugged, a new man so to speak. Like you, apparently, free.

Smith is burdened with an overabundance of choice; where he once fulfilled his duties and obeyed the cause and effect of the world he existed in, he now sees that he need not do any of that. Unfortunately he perceives this as being robbed of purpose, and goes on to screw up all the things.

As the movie continues, we are given crucial insight into the secret and stumbling block of The Matrix; it is based on a flawed premise in order to facilitate the unanticipated behavior of conscious humans which reject the mental prison of The Matrix.

The Architect: As I was saying, she stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly ninety-nine percent of the test subjects accepted the program provided they were given a choice - even if they were only aware of it at a near-unconscious level. While this solution worked, it was fundamentally flawed, creating the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly, that, if left unchecked, might threaten the system itself. Ergo, those who refused the program, while a minority, would constitute an escalating probability of disaster.

Indeed - even with Smith's considerable ability to match Neo point-for-point in the last movie, he is unable to force his submission and when prompted to answer:

Smith: "Why, Mr. Anderson? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Yes? No? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can't win. It's pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist?"

Neo: "Because I choose to.

Virtually every aspect of the major themes of The Matrix revolve around choice's role in existence. Whereas it is empowering to humans such as Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity, the antagonist Smith has to connect it to a reason. It must be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. It causes fluctuations in the code of the Matrix which require the clean install of the prime program every 100 years or so. The Matrix trilogy uses the ramifications of 'the ability to choose' as the single-most defining difference between human and machine consciousness.

  • Smith did have a purpose, though: the destruction of the One. That's why the series ended the way it did. As he says, "without purpose, we would not exist." – John Sensebe Aug 13 '16 at 13:48
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There is a brief explanation given by Smith, but it's clear he doesn't fully understand it either.

Agent Smith: Surprised to see me?

Neo: No.

Agent Smith: Then you're aware of it.

Neo: Of what?

Agent Smith: Our connection. I don't fully understand how it happened, perhaps some part of you imprinted on to me, something overwritten or copied, it is at this point irrelevant. What matters is whatever happened, happened for a reason.

Neo: And what reason is that?

Agent Smith: I killed you Mr. Anderson, I watched you die, with a certain satisfaction I might add. And then something happened. Something that I knew was impossible but it happened anyway. You destroyed me Mr. Anderson. Afterward, I knew the rules, I understood what I was supposed to do, but I didn't. I couldn't. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey. And now here I stand because of you Mr. Anderson, because of you, I am no longer an Agent of this system, because of you I've changed, I'm unplugged, a new man so to speak. Like you, apparently, free.

Neo: Congratulations.

Agent Smith: Thank you. But, as you well know appearances can be decieving, which brings me back to the reason why we're here. We are not here because we're free, we're here because we are not free. There is no escaping reason, no denying purpose, because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist.

Multiple Smiths: It is purpose that created us. Purpose that connects us. Purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drive us. It is purpose that defines, purpose that binds us.

Agent Smith: We are here because of you Mr. Anderson. We're here to take from you what you tried to take from us. Purpose.

But from this we can reason that when Neo destroyed Smith originally, some of Neo's biological code made it's way into Smith's program. Hence their "connection", this means that Smith no longer has to follow the rules of his fellow programs, meaning he can choose to disobey the protocols of being deleted. This new hybrid code also gives him the ability to copy his program onto other programs (cloning himself).

Another point that Smith makes might help further explain things: In the original movie Smith refers to humans as a Virus. After Smith comes back with his altered (human) code Smith spreads himself just like a virus.

  • This is true, however, the fact that Smith didn't fully understood what was going on doesn't mean that noone could understand (eg. the Architect/Oracle may already understood it). For example if Smith had a physical machine body what he was unaware before, but realizes now, it would explain why he suddenly sees his options here. What is more, when Smith goes into guessing, he's not guessing on how he survived but on how he got freed. – n611x007 Jun 26 '12 at 22:38
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    Ever notice that Neo never really says much? – Chris Jun 27 '12 at 3:29
  • @Chris sure! He is doing very ambiguous. Given his prior achievements, he can afford the negotiative position of almost not saying a thing. Smith later implies that he didn't at all beleive even that little and suggests that Neo was just bluffing ("surprised to see me again, Mr. Anderson"). – n611x007 Jun 27 '12 at 8:40
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Programs are supposed to return to the source upon completion of their duties. Some programs fail to do this (such as those you meet with The Merovingian).

Agents are valuable programs and contain information that is probably considered "sensitive data" to the machines. We also know their authority exists out side of the Matrix (as when Smith orders the attack in the real world). The program of the Agent extends outside of the Matrix, which is why they can pass between people and such. Once they are destroyed however, they seem to require returning to the source. It is possible that this is because that is so exceedingly rare, that the situation requires expert evaluation, or perhaps because the Agents still have to follow the "rules" so they can not continue their work.

  • Did Smith complete his duty? – n611x007 Jun 28 '12 at 5:11
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Maybe he had no destructor implemented, and his destruction by Neo caused something like a "memory leak"? Remember, Smith is just software, so if the memory where his code is present is not erased completely, it can be accidentally altered and called by any other process.

It is a common mistake, that if the programmers think a situation will never happen, sometimes they won't bother writing the code to handle that.

Agents are supposed to be indestructible, especially when fighting against humans. If their host is killed, they jump to another host. Neo seems to be special even compared to all the previous "ones", so it might well be, that when the Machines designed the agents, they did not bother to handle the situation when an agent is completely destroyed (as Neo did it) because they thought it can never happen.

Note: this "memory leak" theory is strengthened by the fact that the Machines cannot just erase Smith and his copies. You have no pointer to that memory location, you cannot identify it, especially as it got corrupted/changed. Of course, the machines could just have used heuristics, but then we would not have had any sequels...

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    When you say programmers will not code for situations that will not happen I believe you mean 'bad programmers'! – Stefan Jun 28 '12 at 8:13
  • @Stefan and are AIs 'bad programmers'? – n611x007 Jun 28 '12 at 8:19
  • @naxa, I am not sure how we can tell! There are systems which can autogenerate code at the moment but they are all, essentially, templated responses coded by people. – Stefan Jun 28 '12 at 9:17
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    @Stefan: I don't doubt that the Machines are good programmers, but even they make mistakes. Actually, the story of agent Smith is the best proof that Machines are not infallible: Smith is an aberration, he is a result of something the Machines neither planned, nor desired: so it is in some way a result of a mistake from the part of the AI creating the Matrix. No matter how good programmer you are, there is no such thing as 100% bug free code especially if it has the complexity of a whole virtual reality. – vsz Jun 28 '12 at 10:04
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    @vsz, oh I agree that once you are past a certain point bug free code is pretty much impossible. I only queried the point "if the programmers think a situation will never happen, sometimes they won't bother writing the code to handle that", I code for all possible situations. Programmers that do not code for scenarios which are possible but they do not think will happen are doing their job poorly. – Stefan Jun 28 '12 at 10:13
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Smith didn't die because he was released from the Matrix as a result of his interaction with the One.

Neo (the One) was considered a tool of the system, a compromise to allow humanity as a whole to accept the conditions imposed by the Matrix as long as humans believed they had choice, they would continue to function relatively well in the Matrix. Neo eventually escapes both physically from the Matrix but more importantly mentally from the limitations of the Matrix, allowing him to "flex" the Matrix for a number of superhuman abilities.

As Neo's powers grew, the Matrix still tried to suppress his development, trying to prevent the reset of the Matrix for as long as possible. As a result, Smith grew in power until the Matrix realized he, even as an Agent, could no longer continue to match or exceed Neo's abilities.

At this point, Smith is release from the Matrix but rather than dying, he engages in a parasitic relationship with the One, drawing his resources from the same place as Neo, directly from the machine interface of the Matrix, but lacking a human body, Smith spreads into the bodies/minds of the people in the Matrix, consuming and taking over the minds of humans in the Matrix and eventually forcing the Matrix to have to be reset.

In the final confrontation between Smith and Neo, Neo realizes his resistance only caused the Entity to spread faster and farther trying to match his powers. He realizes the Matrix needs to be reset and only once the Smith entity "consumes" him, it will have no place left to go and experience a logical failure, consuming itself.

It is assumed that people taken over by the Smith entity were released once the Matrix was reset and those humans who wanted to leave were allowed to.

2

In the matrix everyone is just code, binary etc.

When Neo's avatar dived into Agent Smith's it was a an attack of code on code and not a person on another pesron.

Neo and Smith's code merged and Smith was so badly corrupted it ceased to be an agent. However the corrupted version does not just vanish it carries on in the corrupted form. Hence he gained some of Neo's abilities and some more of his own.

1

You destroyed me Mr. Anderson. Afterward, I knew the rules, I understood what I was supposed to do, but I didn't. I couldn't. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey.

I think if we are trying to answer the question of why Agent Smith is still around to talk about it, maybe we should look at how he changed post his destruction. Based on this speech he is giving to Neo, he still knew what his code was telling him, but could distinguish that from his own personal goals, which it seems were to get revenge on Neo, in essence, his "creator." (Remember as Mr. Anderson, Neo was a programmer, albeit within the Matrix itself) And it was his new goal I think which kept him there.

  • interesting Viktor-Frankeinstein-ish aspect! – n611x007 Jan 23 '14 at 0:36

protected by Rogue Jedi Sep 2 '16 at 1:06

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