The Architect tells Neo:

Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the Matrix. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden assiduously avoided, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you, inexorably, here.

This suggests that Neo (like each of the "Ones" who went before him) was an intentional creation of the Matrix, and was actually necessary in order to maintain the stability of the Matrix itself.

What problem was he sent to solve, and why was he so important for the stability of the Matrix?

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    Stack Overflow? Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:36
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    @WadCheber: Did you mean "Danke schön"?
    – Bergi
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:49
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    @Bergi - Apparently I did. I've always seen it written the way I spelled it, for some reason (presumably because Americans don't know a damn thing about other languages). :)
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:58
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    To me, the quote seems to be saying that Neo is unavoidable, not intentional. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 10:11
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    @Bergi -- or, as we used to say back in college, "Donkey Shins, Mercy Buckets, and Much Grass" Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 12:13

6 Answers 6


The Architect is using some flowery technobabble to explain something called cumulative error - a tiny error in a computation that compounds itself as the computation keeps going. For example, in math-intensive computer programs, you need to be careful how you handle things like rounding calculations, or else tiny rounding errors can accumulate into big numbers (like that Superman movie). Similarly, correctly managing your program's memory use is important to avoid memory leaks.

When these bugs happen in programs, the program can act weird or crash. When they happen to the operating system, it brings the whole machine down with it.

In the Matrix, the cumulative error the Architect is talking about is free will. As he explains it, most of the people in the Matrix are content to live out their lives plugged in. However, in order for the Matrix to function properly, those people have to have the option to choose to reject the Matrix. We know this is necessary because, as he explains, they tried two previous Matrix versions without that freedom, and they both failed miserably.

So, inherent in the programming of The Matrix is a tiny flaw -- the fact that the people in it have to be capable of rejecting it. For whatever reason, even after those people are unplugged, that flaw continues to accumulate in the programming, and if left unchecked, would crash the system.

The solution was to wait for that cumulative error to get big enough, then pick one of the people plugged in and somehow focus all of the instability into that one person. That one person then carries the instability back into the core of the Matrix operating system and, in essence, "reboots" the computation. In the process, he picks a certain number of people to unplug, which I suspect is partly meant to get the instability out of the system.

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    "like that Superman movie" - Superman III. Also, Office Space.
    – Politank-Z
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 20:33
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    No, the Architect is extremely vague about the workings of the Matrix, since it's supposed to be way beyond what human comprehension is capable of. The way he explains it, it's more like "each time someone is born that chooses to reject the Matrix, some other part of the system gets a little more unstable." Its not clear if actually being physically unplugged makes any difference.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 20:37
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    For those interested, a common example of cumulative error in real-world computing is floating point operations, in which a computer might receive the number "1" but actually calculate it as "1.0000000000003". Such things rarely matter in single operations, but over time programmers have to account for them to keep them from returning results like "1 + 1 = 2.5".
    – Nerrolken
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:53
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    I don't think it's clear from the Architect's speech that the problem is a cumulative error in the program itself (though it's a plausible interpretation)--the "systemic anomaly" he talks about could just be that as Zion gets more and more populous, there will be more and more infiltrators from Zion recruiting people inside the Matrix, until eventually the rate people are leaving could exceed the rate new people are born inside the Matrix. This would fit his comment "Ergo, those that refused the program, while a minority, if unchecked, would constitute an escalating probability of disaster".
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 22:05
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    That flowery technobabble ruined the film.
    – Gusdor
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 7:18

The Architect explains later in the conversation:

The Architect: [The Oracle] stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly 99% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice, even if they were only aware of the choice at a near unconscious level. While this answer functioned, it was obviously fundamentally flawed, thus creating the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly, that if left unchecked might threaten the system itself. Ergo those that refused the program, while a minority, if unchecked, would constitute an escalating probablility of disaster.

Neo: This is about Zion.

During this conversation the both Neo and Architect specifically say that "the problem is choice".

The problem with choice is that some humans in the Matrix choose to reject it, causing anomalies (errors) in the system which eventually add up to destabilize the entire system. The One is the integral anomaly -- the sum of all those anomalies/errors. The One solves the problem by summing up (integrating) all those individual anomalies and returning to the Source to cancel them out. As explained by the Architect:

The function of the One is now to return to the Source, allowing a temporary dissemination of the code you carry, reinserting the prime program.

Essentially, the One deletes himself by returning to the Source (recall that's how programs are deleted as well), removing all those anomalies and restabilizing the system. This also causes a reboot of the entire Matrix, starting the next cycle.

As the One meets with the Architect to make his final choice (to return to the Source or not), the Machines simultaneously destroy Zion. This eliminates all the people who rejected the Matrix, and ensures that the One returns to the Source by blackmailing the One with the threat of the extinction of the human race (since Zion will be destroyed, and the Matrix will crash and kill everyone in it).

Although the problem is choice, it results in a more stable system than the system of coercion (even blissful coercion) used in the Matrix betas:

The Architect: The first Matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect, it was a work of art - flawless, sublime. A triumph equalled only by its monumental failure. The inevitability of its doom is apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being. Thus, I redesigned it based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature. However, I was again frustrated by failure.

As Agent Smith notes in The Matrix, "entire crops were lost" while the Paradise Matrix was in use.

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    @WadCheber Bluepills include people who were never offered the choice between blue or red pills. Every human makes the choice even if only aware of it at a near unconscious level (see the first quote from the Architect), so it is certainly possible for someone to reject the Matrix yet be stuck in it.
    – Null
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 20:48
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    You are assuming the humans would leave the machines alone. That is unlikely, considering the humans started the Machine War (with a nuclear strike on the Machine City no less!).
    – Null
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:18
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    @WadCheber - Asked and answered here
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:21
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    @Null - My knowledge of the Matrix is limited to the movies. I had no idea that the war was entirely our fault, and began because we're assholes (which I just learned from the link you provided). But in retrospect, of course that's what happened. So basically, the most obvious interpretation of the movies is wrong, and in reality, the machines are the good guys. We're the villains.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:29
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    @WadCheber Indeed, and it gets worse! Zion is willing to kill all the bluepills just to destroy the Matrix.
    – Null
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:32

The short answer is that the concept behind the Matrix is fundamentally and fatally flawed. The Architect lays it out for Neo that despite his best efforts, the Machines have been unable to create a convincing environment for their human captives. Over time, more and more inhabitants begins to recognise the unreality of their world and they in turn start to point out the problems to others around them.

Architect: As I was saying, she stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly 99.9% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice, even if they were only aware of the choice at a near unconscious level. While this answer functioned, it was obviously fundamentally flawed, thus creating the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly, that if left unchecked might threaten the system itself. Ergo, those that refused the program, while a minority, if unchecked, would constitute an escalating probability of disaster.

Neo: This is about Zion.

Unchecked, eventually even those who're most innured are liable to have the situation pointed out to them, something which we know from Morpheus' speech (and within the Matrix comics) will result in their deaths.

Simply put, People who aren't ready to be released will "pop" (e.g. die) if they're shown the truth.

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The solution? Offer malcontents a choice that allows them to leave the Matrix.

Neo's purpose is to act as the ultimate safety valve. The machines will reboot the Matrix (wiping the memories of everyone in it), destroy Zion and then Neo's job is to start all over again, using his small band of merry men (and woman) to repopulate Zion after it's been rebuilt by the machines.

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    @WadCheber - Because it represents an escalating threat to the Machines. Note that in the Animatrix, we see that they're starting to grow beyond the bounds of their city, developing new and exciting weapons to attack the machines. Given another hundred years, they might actually represent a genuine danger to 0:1. Better to destroy them and force them to start over.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 20:55
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    @WadCheber He's blackmailed with the extinction of the human race (see my answer).
    – Null
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:03
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    @WadCheber - "the relevant issue is whether or not you are ready to accept the responsibility for the death of every human being in this world."
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:07
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    @WadCheber The Architect explains that: "Your 5 predecessors were, by design, based on a similar predication - a contingent affirmation that was meant to create a profound attachment to the rest of your species, facilitating the function of the One."
    – Null
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:41
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    Or, in English: The Matrix gave you a hero complex that would make you inherently want to die to save humanity, but oops we forgot about hot chix in leather cat suits.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:56

I don't think Neo was in any way an intentional creation of the Matrix, but more a predictable eventuality of it. That all comes back to natural selection and evolution - when you place a species in a new environment it adapts to that environment to gain advantages over time until it becomes more and more acclimated to it. In this case, Neo is the eventuality that humanity would evolve into a supreme state over the Matrix, able to process and understand and interact with it in a more natural and intuitive way than the machines that operate it. In fact Neo clearly exhibits an ability to directly interface machines in the real world based on his ability to telepathically manipulate them.

Neo's sacrifice was the balance struck to destroy the genetic legacy of a machine-oppressor in order to give humanity the truth and a choice in how they will live their lives moving forward. By becoming a martyr for humanity he destroyed the ability for humanity to have ultimate control over the machine intelligence in return for humanity's freedom. Had Neo not martyred himself for humanity the struggle would have continued and escalated, causing not only untold casualties for both sides but ultimately an emergent machine-oppressor society of humans who would ultimately have taken back control over Earth but at the likely cost of the planet. Seeing how miserable life is in Zion and with what's already left of Earth, it makes a lot more sense to give what's left of humanity the choice - the bliss of ignorance living in the Matrix and fueling the machine's power needs or the painful freedom of knowing the real world - but ultimately every human would have that choice to make and in theory could even move between the two at will.

The mention of cyclical natures intimating that "this has all happened before and will all happen again" both from the Oracle and the Architect point out that this cycle of humanity evolving to become supremely capable over the Matrix and machine technology is a redundant process. That's another reason it's anticipated - humans had evolved to machine-oppressor level in the past and compromised the Matrix. It's also insinuated that sacrifices were made in those iterations to 'keep the peace' similar to Neo's sacrifice. Almost like it's become a ritual celebration of life, death and rebirth between the two societies (machines and humanity).

Eventually humanity (for the most part) will tire of living in the harsh reality and acquiesce back into life in the new Matrix. Which will lead to the rise of machines as the architects and gentle oppressors of humanity once again. Without a balance the machine society will again take more and more for granted and a new evolution of control over machines and a new rebellion will rise up and begin the cycle again.

The eventual goal of the Matrix seems to be to build-in an equilibrium of freedom, choice and placation that humanity can live with - to find and strike a harmony between the machine society and humanity such that they can reap the benefits of a mutual existence and symbiotic relationship. Every iteration of the cycle seeks to improve that balance, as pointed out by the Architect regarding prior iterations.

Will this next iteration of the Matrix be an improvement? My guess is that the franchise may have a rebirth some years or decades down the road to show us just that. ;)

  • ... aaaand it looks like I was right. The franchise is coming back for a new film here in the next few years. And interestingly, with Neo and Trinity back. So maybe Neo didn't have to sacrifice his life after all. It will be extremely interesting to see where this goes!
    – tpartee
    Commented Aug 11, 2020 at 17:38

The problem is indeed choice - but let's pull back a little and step out of the movie for a brief moment.

Human beings always have choices, even if they are only vaguely aware of their choices whilst they plod through a busy day. However in the back of our minds, if we sense we have no choices then we become sad and even sometimes depressed. ( People suffering from depression often convince themselves there are no choices. E.g All roads only take you where a road can go and nowhere else. There is a sense that things are closing in! )

Jump back to the matrix. If not offered choice and free will to make choices the mood of the human race will eventually crash and people would simply tear the world apart. This is the monumental failure the architect speaks of. A consequence of choice as pointed out above is that some people will reject and choose to leave the matrix. This is normally allowed to happen at near the beginning of an integral until the emergence of the one. At that point the freed people become a threat and must be culled down to a select few to allow the process to continue safely. The machines are essentially "weeding the veggie patch" at regular intervals so the overall crop stays healthy.

Step back to the real world. Having the internet at our finger tips has deluded us into thinking we have an many choices. Sometimes so many that we choose nothing. How many times have you sifted through Netflix unable to hone in on anything? Human beings are bound by the concept of 3. The premise, the conformation, the choice. Even jokes follow this rule. The premise, the confirmation, the punchline where the premise is logically misread to give the comedic punch. IN a binary situation of good and bad the rule of three gives us 2 to 1 way to move forward. Or a 3 to nothing slam dunk. That is how our conscious mind works on its feet. At some point we will exhaust from choice surplus.

And then on social media platforms we are clumped into groups of people who think like we do denying us the opportunity to deal with dissent in a healthy way.

We are now both learning to chose later, sit on our ass, and surround ourselves with people who support us all the way. We are stagnated and flat on our ass! No different than the crop of the matrix in many ways!


I think this analysis, while helpful on many points, does not grasp the ultimate point of the story. The first film presents the good-versus-evil premise of the conflict from the perspective of the "woke" human beings. The second film begins to deconstruct our suppositions not only about who is right and who is wrong but also about the nature of reality itself. The third film completes this deconstruction to make way for a solution to the conflict, not a permanent solution but a workable one for the time being. I think it has become apparent by the time that Neo encounters the Deus ex Machina that the only possible solution is reconciliation because there is good on both sides and neither one deserves to prevail at the expense of the other.

In the second film, when Neo is able to use his Matrix powers in the "real" world to stop the sentinels and Agent Smith takes possession of the flesh-and-blood body of Bane, we begin to understand that real and virtual are not discreet realities but categories which may be transcended by the One and his alter-ego. By the third film we meet not only programs willing to fight other programs over the right of humans to exercise their irrational impulses, but programs that are capable of love and self-sacrifice. Without these distinctions between man and machine, their differences become irrelevant. We are they and they are we. The war is about one side (or one facet of the total) trying to annihilate another. Since both are necessary, reconciliation is the only satisfactory outcome. Thus Neo asks the Deus not for victory but peace.

The Matrix is different from the machine world, but near the end of its sixth iteration it has become dominated by it. I take the machine world for a symbol of science, man's most successful endeavor that gives him the means of understanding and controlling his environment. But since AI designed the Matrix, other means of comprehension and control have receded. Faith, intuition, prescience, religion, spirituality have lost ground in it except, presumably, as opiates for the masses to keep them plugged in. The irrationality of these things is abhorrent to the pure logic of machines and their artificial intelligence, which is why their value must be rediscovered outside the Matrix. So the "real" world of humanity is a relatively safe space for the subversive thoughts and actions that these irrational disciplines generate. But in the end, I think the Matrix is intended to represent the collective mind of humanity over which science has gained too much power and faith too little.

Although the problem with humanity is explicity identified as its insistence on a "choice," the Matrix's fatal flaw is that it has been programmed to squelch any suspicion that there is a reality beyond itself. Humanity must not suspect there is something more, because it will want to find out and may rebel when it learns the truth. In our world the unprecedented success of science has predisposed us to believe that it is a good thing for humanity whereas faith and other irrational methods of understanding are regressive, counterproductive, and thus bad for humanity. To the extent that science disallows reality that it cannot measure and precludes the existence of things intuited by faith, it creates its own fundamental flaw that can bring down the system. A clue to this was embedded in the first film by the Wachowskis when they made the hiding place for Thomas Anderson's illegal software a hollowed out copy of Baudrillard's book "Simulacra and Simulation." I believe they would also like us to extrapolate from their opus that an ideal rebooting of our culture would be one that allows rational and irrational disciplines to coexist in peace, correcting each other's excesses for the benefit of humanity. That hope is one that seems to be represented in the final moment of the trilogy after the seventh version of the Matrix is launched. It is the dawn of a new day (the seventh day; the biblical day of rest) complete with rainbow colored sunrise created by young Sati for her own intuitive purpose.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Your answer, that the flaw is the Matrix needing to represent itself as ultimate reality when it is not, is buried far too deep in this answer. You should reorganize this more in the form of an essay where you tease the conclusion before fully developing it. As it is this reads too much like an unrelated commentary until the very end.
    – DavidW
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 13:32
  • DavidW: You are right, my exposition is upside-down, and I probably overestimate the patience of readers to wade through three paragraphs before I present my answer. Thanks for the constructive criticism. I will revise this. Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 18:25

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