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In the Animatrix, the human leadership surrenders to the Machines in the UN building in New York City. The machine ambassador speaks on the terms of the surrender and then "signs" the document to accept it while the human leadership looks on.

This is the scene: Hand Over Your Flesh

After the surrender is accepted, the machine ambassador detonates a hidden nuclear device which destroys much of New York. The human leadership that just surrendered is obviously killed in the blast.

My question is: why did the Machines detonate the nuclear device and kill the human leaders, along with much of New York? What purpose did it serve?

From what we've seen in the rest of the Matrix, the Machines are cold and calculating but not butchers. When there is sufficient cause for violence, the Machines will use it to accomplish their goals, but what goal called for them to destroy the human leadership?

I realize that the instrument of surrender allowed the Machines to take essentially any action without reneging on the terms, but the detonation of the nuclear device seems irrational. For example, at the end of Revolutions, the Architect agrees to free the humans that wish to leave the Matrix. The Oracle inquires if he means to keep that agreement and the Architect seemingly scoffs at the idea of reneging. That suggests that the Machines would not make an agreement they did not mean to uphold, and it seems logical that the Machines would not take any extraneous action beyond the terms of the agreement (e.g. actions out of spite, revenge, etc.).

That is, once the Machines accepted the surrender of the humans, there was no need to kill the human leadership. The humans had been subjugated, the leadership usurped, and the Machines were given complete control. What reason did they have to detonate the nuclear device in the UN building?

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    +1. This is a good question, and one that has bugged me for a while. My only thought was that maybe the destruction of New York was part of the terms of surrender, payback for the attack on 01? But that doesn't make sense, because the diplomats don't seem like they're about to die. Looking forward to seeing if anyone has an answer.
    – Nerrolken
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:11
  • @Nerrolken - Agreed, I thought that was the reason, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. The humans understood the surrender to mean that militarily and politically the Machines have won. Generally, though, a surrender means an end to the violence and doesn't include a massacre. It's not really Machine-like to make an agreement where you essentially trick the other party, and it's also not Machine-like to enact payback. If that was the goal, why accept the surrender? Just blow it up, no surrender needed. That's the source of my question; the obvious explanation doesn't make sense in-universe.
    – Fatbird3
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:22
  • Good question. The (unconditional) surrender does order the rest of humanity to stand down, so it was necessary for the machines to obtain the surrender. And since it was unconditional the machines technically had the authority to blow up NYC. So the machines did uphold their agreement, albeit the destruction of the human leadership was probably unnecessary.
    – Null
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:27
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    Out of universe, the detonation of the nuclear bomb is probably to further the parallels between the humans' surrender to the machines and the Japanese surrender to the Allies after the detonation of the atomic bombs in WWII.
    – Null
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:28
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    @Null Kind of breaks the metaphor, considering that the Humans had already surrendered when the nuke went off.
    – Nerrolken
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:30

5 Answers 5

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There are three possibilities we can glean from what we know. All of them require speculation on our part, however:

Option A - The machines felt that it was a necessary strategic tactic.

The machines may have felt that, despite the treaty, the humans would eventually attempt to rebel or fight back. Therefore, they may have felt that it was a logical, necessary tactic needed to both eliminate the human leadership as well as intimidating the remaining human populace into obedience, in addition to having the treaty signed (for those who would honor such a signing). The machines most likely predict logical outcomes based on scenarios & odds, but the idea of anger & revenge are difficult concepts for them to understand. Therefore, the tactical effects of eliminating New York would far outweigh any side effects such as inciting the humans.

Option B - The treaty was a deception.

Another possibility is that the treaty itself was a deception designed entirely to lure the human leadership into a single location. Keep in mind that one of the recurring themes of the Matrix universe is that the machines had to start thinking like humans to win. Abstract concepts like deception, fallibility & hope are what it ultimately took to make the Matrix work. It's entirely possible that the event you describe was the Machines' first attempt at deception - a tactic they had seen the humans use to great effect.

Option C - The detonation could indicate a rift in Machine philosophy.

While no evidence is seen of this during Animatrix, it DOES appear on-screen in the films. There may be two differing philosophies, or even factions, within the Machines at the time of the signing. Whereas Faction 1 might be legitimately signing the treaty in good faith, Faction 2 could be taking advantage of the opportunity and destroying the human leadership. As we see in the later films, not all machines agree as to what should be done with the humans. Perhaps this incident was an early indicator of that disagreement.

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  • Neither of those options require the Machines to sign the instrument of surrender. There is no logical reason to accept the human surrender if it is only meant as a deceptive or cynical tactic. The leadership had been gathered and the nuclear device could be detonated without signing the instrument. A: detonation without acceptance of the surrender would accomplish both intimidation and decapitation of leadership. B: detonation without acceptance of the surrender would have successfully deceived the human leadership into gathering to be killed.
    – Fatbird3
    Mar 11, 2015 at 19:18
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    Well, it depends - the machines could actually WANT the treaty signed yet still kill off the leadership. But, your comment also made me think of a third option which I'll add.
    – Omegacron
    Mar 11, 2015 at 20:07
  • If the Machines want the instrument signed, that would suggest that they feel it is binding. If it is binding, yet they still wish to eliminate the human leadership, that means the Machines do not expect the humans to uphold their side of the agreement (which is a reasonable conclusion, given their history). But, if the Machines do not think the humans will abide by the agreement, why do the Machines want a formal surrender? It just seems like an arbitrary wish, which goes against the character of the Machines.
    – Fatbird3
    Mar 11, 2015 at 20:13
  • The Machines may understand at that point that there are two types of human - those who will honor the treaty, and those who won't honor a treaty but WILL honor a show of force.
    – Omegacron
    Mar 11, 2015 at 20:15
  • Regarding Option C, also plausible. As you said, though, that would be speculative. It's also worth noting that the Machine ambassador both signs the agreement and is the source of the nuclear blast. Given the way Machine personalities (e.g. Architect, Smith) are portrayed in the movies, it seems out of sorts that a single Machine personality -- the ambassador, in this case -- would act in the interest of more than one Machine faction in a "split personality." It seems more likely that the ambassador would pick a side and act accordingly.
    – Fatbird3
    Mar 11, 2015 at 20:17
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There is some evidence that the machines are less inclined or capable to break the terms of agreements than humans would be. From the ending of Matrix: Revolutions:

The Architect: Just how long do you think this peace is going to last?

Oracle: As long as it can. What about the others?

The Architect: What others?

Oracle: The ones that want out.

The Architect: Obviously they will be freed.

Oracle: I have your word?

The Architect: What do you think I am? Human?

That last line seems to imply that even if it might be to the Machine's advantage to go back on the agreement they made with Neo, something in their nature would prevent them from doing so. Given this attitude, a plausible answer is that they had some sort of moral code about agreements, and that this would include a preference for a surrender agreement in which both sides' obligations were clearly spelled out, even though they had the power to impose the "surrender your flesh" solution without any agreement from the humans. And if the terms of surrender didn't say anything one way or another about the specific fate of the ambassadors, perhaps that was why they had no problem with blowing them up if it they calculated it was to their strategic advantage (perhaps for the reasons Omegacron suggested, decreasing the likelihood of future rebellion by removing the human leadership), once they had already obtained the surrender agreement. If the ambassadors had thought to insert terms saying that they personally would be spared, I imagine the machines wouldn't have blown them up. But if the ambassadors didn't think of this possibility, then perhaps the machines only felt bound to abide by the letter of the agreement, not to any "spirit" of accepting humanity's peaceful surrender that wasn't explicitly spelled out.

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  • +1. It's plausible that the Machines simply wanted a formal surrender, but then what reason do they have to detonate the device? To be safe that there will be no human resistance? It seems plausible but arbitrary, which the Machines are not. Arbitrary in two ways; first that the Machines want a formal surrender -- they are not bound by human morality, so desire for a formal surrender is odd. Second that upon receiving the surrender, they also wish to eliminate the possibility of resistance. As Machines, it's unlikely that they would bother with a surrender that they saw as unreliable.
    – Fatbird3
    Mar 11, 2015 at 19:58
  • Even if they don't exactly replicate human morality they may have their own sort of moral code, which includes a preference for a spelled-out agreements to end conflicts. I think the Architect's comments contradict your view that "As Machines, it's unlikely that they would bother with a surrender that they saw as unreliable"--he skeptically asked "how long do you think this peace is going to last" but scoffed at the idea of failing to abide by the Machine's side of the agreement (which also supports a kind of Machine morality--now that Smith is taken care of, what non-moral reason is there?)
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 11, 2015 at 22:13
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    The Architect talks about a "systemic anomaly" and says the One is the "eventually of an anomaly"--the anomaly is apparently related to human "choice", the desire to rebel from the Matrix, but it's not really clear if the Architect means that the periodic appearance of the One is also part of this anomaly, or if the Machines designed the One as part of their way of dealing with the anomaly of human rebellion. Even if the second is true, I don't think there's any evidence they designed the One to "change the Matrix" in any way he sees fit, rather if he was created by design, the design
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 12, 2015 at 4:02
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    (continued) Nothing in this would imply the Machines had designed the One to make independent judgments about how the Matrix should be managed, or that they would trust his judgments over their own. So I don't see why there would be anything irrational (a better word than 'illogical', which as I said deals only with whether statements are true or false, not which courses of action are good or bad) in simply ignoring the One's ideas about how to reform the Matrix once he had killed Smith. And if they trusted his ideas, why wouldn't they go along with them even before Smith was killed?
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 12, 2015 at 4:12
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    @Richard -- for some reason I'm not seeing any "take this discussion to chat" link now.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 13, 2015 at 22:41
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To me things are quite simple:

First off, the Machines' faction is not a monolithic block sharing perfectly a single unique value system. Otherwise, the Oracle and the Architect wouldn't even have had those cool conversations, showing their differences.

Second, it has been shown. Not only the Agent Smith which became a "virus", but lots of other programs got "corrupted" (the Wraiths Twins, etc.). Nothing ssays that those kinds of corruptions started only AFTER the Matrix was established. Rogue programs could have been there all along. In fact, maybe it was such Rogue programs that even started off the Human-Robots conflictd in the first place? After all, why would monolithc built to be slaves robots macde to serve down to the way their thought program works would EVER rebel, unless at least one of them went "corrupted" and Rogue in the first place?

So, the Machines society might have tons of viewpoints in it. But to keep things simple for our simpple human brains, let's go with two big ones (which donm't even need a binary distribution "each machien is either of this group or of that group" there may be a lot more or even some contradictory overlaps as in when you have two contradictory opinions and are weighting your options with some amount of doubt on which one is the best choice):

  • Some machines just want the end to the war, and live as equals to humans. Those want the signed agreement and intend to fully respect it. Ler's call those machines the "Equalists".

  • Some other machines might not thrust the humans enough and want to wipe all of humanity, but they would still find advantage in a signed agreement. Let's call those the "Purists". They would want the treaty signed for the following reasons:

a) Some % of all humans will keep on respecting the full surrender treaty even after the machines wiped the leaders and New York. In order words: this signing would make their intent of getting rid of humanity easier. Even if it is just 0.1% better, its still "better" so why not?

b) Some % of humans would respect a big show of force a bit more (or fall into despair and hopelessness a bit more) if it is demontrated that the humans essentially gave the machines the legal right to do it. Not moral at all, sure. But past human history has shown often enough that a conqueror can ddecide to kill off the surrenderering leaders anyway. Heck some leaders might surrender knowing fulll werlll they're dooomed to die no matter what, but attempt to save their population by doing so. Again even it it is just 1% better, it's better.

c) Crushing the humans but WITHOUT the signing, the machines could have guessed that the odds of the humans just stalling for time to later renege on the agreement, and rally for a counterattac, might vae been high, while crushiign WITH the signing, the little remaining humanity would nssteand tend more to just lose all hope. Meaning, an easier job to control things for the machines. So even if they fully did intend to nuke, the signing costs them NOTHING but will still help them a little bit to manipulate human minds and will to fight back later on.

d) And probably the most important factor of all: the machines sides probably involved a lot of internal arguing that the humans never saw the color of. Maybe the "collective" of all Machines then "votes" somehow to reach a combined "middle ground". Neither sides could achieve "total victory" of it's intents and thus large concessions had to be made to the other side and therefore the final Machine behavior was a kind of "middle point":

  • Yes to greatly reduce humanity's remaining numbers and organisation and power.
  • No to actually wiping them all out.
  • Yes to needing to first get a solid "legal" ground to better justify to the "Equalits" that the "Purists" are allowed to basically commiting a genocide.

To me their behavior is very logical, but them isstakec is thinking that they have one leqader making alll the decisions, like for humans. Their decisions might be muuch more like how the BitCoins protocols decides which transactions on the ledger get approved as "real" and which ones are rejected: it's a consensus of the entire network. Each node might have a different evaluation of the situation, and the final evaluation is determined by minimizing the "stress". Think a big net made up of springs. Each side just pulls as hard it can its way. The entire net however just quickly reaches a state of equilibrium where all springs get pulled both ways more or less with equal strength, something that takes into account all of those forces, yet is not ending up going in the direction of any side, but has it's own dynamics.

Basically, no Machine faction got it's way 100%.

It's like if a bosss thinks paying you 20$/hour is way too much and offers his employees only 10$ an hour. And employees think 20$ an hour is too puny and want 30$ an hour instead.

In a human society, you'd have strikes, scabs, the works. then evenntually the government steps in and say hey i6t's going to ber 20$ an hour, leaving both sides unsatisfied, but at least business can start again and people have work again.

In the Machines world, maybe their internal protocols just force them to rigidly accept that middle ground mediation by the overseeing "the Deus Ex" program. Who knows how many years and CPU cycles the various machines debated amongst themselves before reaching their decision.

Basically, we simply have to not see the machines as a single monolithic "ant farm" intelligence, but as a complex neural network of some kind. Some parts of it might scream "go left!" and some other parts of it might scream "go right!" making the entire system as a whole decide to go straight.

To me that scene made perfect (albeit quite horrible) sense.

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    There's some very bold statements here, but can you back any of it up with actual evidence?
    – Valorum
    Jun 9, 2021 at 6:17
  • Just my general overall feeling of the entirety of how the AI's seem to have some "level" of personalities in the Matrix, and how today's real (limited) "AIs" and overall IT science & tech pritocols seem to work. In the movies the only AIs that seem really all made from the same mold are the Smith viruses. The animatrix shows several scnes with lots of robots, that seem to each want to haabe their own "unique preeferences & aspects (say, wearing different clothing. etc.). This kind of suppports my "don't see the Machines as a single monolithic hive-mind" approach.
    – Pat
    Jun 10, 2021 at 14:16
  • Me saying "a small % of humans would fight back less after a treaty even if machines blow up signatories's entire city" or "a small % of humans would lose all hope to fight back after a show of force annihilating most of what's left", I think those are conservative statements. So it is the other way around: anybody saying that the % is not small but 0%, is the one seemingly making some outrageous claims, thus the one having to provide the evidence. For what I saw of AI software, it doesn't discriminate beyond its programming: the "0.1% better" option will be the one chosen.
    – Pat
    Jun 10, 2021 at 14:23
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Found here it is stated that:

"Eventually brought to its knees by the might of the machines, the U.N. signs an armistice with them. However, after the machines' representative to the U.N. signs the treaty, it detonates a nuclear bomb in the meeting chamber, killing the assembled leaders and destroying New York City, one of the few remaining human settlements, and ending the war."

This implies that the most logical and effective way for the machines to have ended the war, knowing human cunning and deceitfulness (especially when humanity is faced with extinction), was to ensure complete submission. Humans might have decided to submit to the machines by means of survival as well, which explains the signing of the document, but the document was not meant to entail complete surrender:

"An armistice is a formal agreement of warring parties to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, since it might be just a cessation of hostilities while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace." and "The key aspect in an armistice is the end of fighting without the surrender of any party to the conflict."

As a logical machine, knowing human history and the human nature, it would make the most sense to "cut off the snakes head", minimizing human counter-aggression and improving machine-survival dramatically.

Why did the machines sign the armistice anyway, though? The only logical thought behind it is that the machines wanted to make a statement that they did not accept the human ways of war/peace. There would be no further negotiation because the machines saw this as the most effective route, and for the surviving humans humans to understand this, this statement was necessary.

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    The problem with citing wikipedia as a source is that anyone can write anything. I could just as easily edit it to say that they did it because they didn't like the decor.
    – Valorum
    Mar 12, 2015 at 8:25
  • I don't think Wikipedia's phrasing should be used as a definitive source. It's not quite right, anyway, as it was an unconditional surrender and not an armistice agreement. The full text of the instrument of surrender is visible in the Animatrix, and is transcribed here: matrix.wikia.com/wiki/Instrument_of_Surrender. As you can see, it was very much and end of the war.
    – Fatbird3
    Mar 12, 2015 at 16:20
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    @Richard To be fair, the decor in the UN building is hideous. They've got shag carpet on the walls, for crying out loud. So don't discount that theory quite yet...
    – Nerrolken
    Mar 13, 2015 at 22:52
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I think that it was a human terrorist attack. Maybe our political heads could sign a treaty with the machines but there is not such a thing as a monolithic human thinking. You can see it in Matrix Reloaded. So, when humanity received the news about the surrender, it is very possible that rebel groups arose.

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    Are you basing this on solid Matrix evidence that you could edit in to back up your answer or is it just speculation?
    – Jenayah
    Jul 13, 2020 at 5:21

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