Watch: Could Robots Really Use Humans as Batteries to Power the Matrix?

Thursday, 03 September 2015 - 5:37PM
Thursday, 03 September 2015 - 5:37PM
How much "people power" does it take to run The Matrix? Could our bodies ever really be used as human batteries? Kyle Hill attempts to answer these mildly disturbing questions in the most recent installment of "Because Science":

In The Matrix, artificially intelligent machines have hooked humans up to pods, using their bodies as energy sources in a world devastated by a war that left the machines without solar power. There are vague references to using both human batteries and "a form of fusion" as a power source, for plausible deniability of course, but Kyle Hill still attempts to calculate whether this could ever really happen.

Surprisingly, he finds that this scenario is perfectly plausible within the parameters given in The Matrix. If humans output 25,000 BTUs, as Morpheus says, then the human population in 1999 output two trillion watts in total, or five times the output of all the nuclear reactors on the planet. Of course, we don't know how much power The Matrix would need, but he estimates that it would be at least as much as the internet. Although estimates vary on that subject, two trillion watts would provide more than a thousand times the upper estimate. 

But unfortunately, the "fact" that we produce 25,000 BTUs is just not true. We actually produce about a third of that, and plus, power plants would only be able to harvest 30% (at most) of the energy we produce. So taking that into account, we just barely produce what's needed to power the internet, and the Matrix would likely take more than that. Furthermore, it would simply be illogical to use humans as a power source, as they would have to give us food (which they can't grow without sunlight), and our output would never give them enough power to be worth it.

Opening quote
"It doesn't make sense to use humans as a power source unless it's some kind of insult, some kind of retribution for decades of robot subjugation and servitude."
Closing quote

Interestingly, an early version of the script was more scientifically plausible; rather than using humans as batteries, the robots linked all of our brains for combined processing power. Although this sounds equally far-fetched, scientists have actually achieved this with rats. So, maybe the Matrix could happen, but not quite the way it happened in the movie.
Science of Sci-Fi

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