When Neo goes to see the Oracle for the first time in the first movie, a 'receptionist' greets Neo and asks him to wait with the other potentials while the Oracle gets ready.

It's revealed that:

The oracle is a program that was meant to balance the Matrix by being the Yin to the Architect's Yang in the second movie, and that she was created to be destroyed by Agent Smith in the third movie.

Why then would she need other Potentials as mentioned in the first movie?

What would their purpose be since she ultimately...

...would be destroyed anyways?

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    Her purpose wasn't to be consumed by Smith. Smith was an abnormality not previously foreseen. (granted, normally the Matrix was rebooted long before there would have been such a final battle) I just can't believe that Smith was always supposed to grow that strong, because for starters he became unplugged. – jcolebrand Feb 20 '12 at 19:14

It was a ruse. The Oracle was to appear to be an ally to the humans, and so as part of that she needed to appear to be looking for The One. So those were candidates for The One, as far as the humans were concerned.

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    @OghmaOsiris Yeah. I thought that was self-evident. The spoon kid could manipulate The Matrix like Neo was able to when he no longer needed to dodge bullets. – user1027 Aug 5 '11 at 2:46
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    It's also worth pointing out that Neo didn't learn a damn thing from the Oracle - she just pointed him in the right direction and convinced him that there was a purpose. The kid in the lobby is the one who taught him how to manipulate the Matrix. Keanu was schooled by a 5-year old oncology patient, not for the last time. – Jeff Aug 7 '11 at 1:24
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    @Jeff that's why I thought that the potentials were supposed to seem like replacements for the oracle because they gave advice to Neo like the oracle 'did' – OghmaOsiris Aug 7 '11 at 18:31
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    Yes, but since the receptionist tells Neo to "wait with the other potentials, it stands to reason that Neo was considered a potential himself. And he certainly wasn't there as a future Oracle candidate. Ergo, the potentials were potentially the One. – mcw Aug 8 '11 at 17:38
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    @mcw0933 The one thing i would dispute about that is that they are only referred to as potentials. Not all for the same thing necessarily, they could be a mix of potentials for every required position, a potential oracle, architect, & one for the next iteration of the matrix. – user14898 Jun 26 '13 at 14:16

As far as the machines were concerned, the potentials were able to manipulate the matrix more than even the best trained normal human(ie. Trinity can't bend spoons). Identifying them and encouraging the humans to take them to Zion prevents them from becoming threats to the stability of the Matrix.

  • except, as far I as know, there was no indication that any of the potentials were ever freed from the Matrix, and the rebel's MO and that of the Oracle's seem to conflict. – user11521 Feb 6 '15 at 1:24
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    the spoon kid was (implied) freed when 'the kid' delivers Neo the spoon while in Zion in the second move (Reloaded) – WizardKnight Nov 30 '15 at 21:10
  • @WizardKnight Oh wow, I totally missed that part, now I'm going to have to go back and watch it again to catch it – user11521 Feb 8 '16 at 19:31

This is my unsubstantiated theory, but it's plausible that the other potentials were there as teaching/development aide for Neo to become The One. (The "there is no spoon" boy obviously fits the idea, but the existence of others may also have had its purpose to consciously or unconsciously affect Neo).

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