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What's the origin of the word "Matrix" used as either a name or a description of a virtual reality environment? The best known example is of course from the film of the same name, and it's widely reported that the name in this case was taken from Gibson's Neuromancer, but this is predated by the similarly named computer system on Gallifrey in Doctor Who (first appearing in the episode The Deadly Assassin in 1976, several years before Gibson started publishing). Are there any earlier occurrences, or is this the origin of the word?

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    I think Gibson was the first to use it because Time Lords can always steal something from the future. – Lobo Jul 4 '14 at 6:42
  • One question leads to another... I was just talking about this. Boy oh boy, I like the Exchange. – Meat Trademark Jul 4 '14 at 11:16
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There are no earlier references given in the "matrix" entry on p. 117 of Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, I think it's likely the researchers for the Dictionary would have turned up any if they existed. So, there's a very good chance The Deadly Assassin (1976) is the first example of "matrix" being used to mean "cyberspace or virtual reality", although of course the word itself has earlier meanings (it's used in mathematics, and in biology to refer to some kind of source where something grows).

edit: user14111 posted a link to examples of "matrix" on a useful website of science fiction citations, but note that this page describes the website as "the Oxford English Dictionary's science fiction words site", so presumably the editors of the Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction would have known about those examples and not considered any of the pre-1976 ones to be examples of matrix being used to mean cyberspace/virtual reality.

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Having just watched the 1972 science fiction film Solaris, I was surprised to hear this dialog.

There is no Hari. She's dead. You're just a reproduction, a mechanical reproduction. A copy. A matrix.

Later in the film this applies to more than a "person" but actually entire virtual environments. Not quite identical to "The Matrix", but some similarities.

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    Hello and welcome to SFF! This is a nice first answer! If you have a moment don't forget to take the tour. – TheLethalCarrot Apr 18 '18 at 10:37
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    I think that's more an analogy to the meaning of matrix in biology - the manifestations in Solaris start as simple copies before complex personalities/traits grow on them. After all the manifestations are physically created by the Solaris entity, they are not "virtual" in the sense that they merely exist in peoples minds. – Eike Pierstorff Apr 18 '18 at 11:22

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