The Matrix

Movie made: 1999 | Set in: circa 2200

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Existence solely in virtual reality low 2050+
Computer war on humanity very low 2020+
Implanting of skills and knowledge into brain low 2050+

Approach to the future

Philosophical scenario as action vehicle


Futurism: 6

Entertainment: 9

Plausibility: 4

Interesting depictions

Brain technology / virtual reality:
The Matrix
depicts the ultimate virtual reality technology: the ability to feed an artificial world directly into the brain, bypassing the senses.

Billions of people thus perceive only the simulation, The Matrix, unaware that they are enslaved by machines.

The resistance fighters become aware of the nature of The Matrix, and are able to work around some of its rules. For those still constrained by “reality,” Neo, Trinity, and the others appear to have superhuman abilities. Special effects are never gratuitous in this film, as they suggest what it would be like to manipulate the physical laws that govern the world.

Direct connection to the brain may be difficult or impossible. So far, progress is minuscule:

  • Experimental artificial retinas allow some perception of light by the blind.
  • Stimulation of brain regions during experiments has triggered emotions and memories.

So at best it will be decades before wholesale sensory download is possible, unless we discover a central module in the brain that can act as an interface point.

Even then, the embodiment of the mind in a physical brain might prevent us from instantly downloading skills, as Trinity does when she learns to fly a helicopter in seconds.

But sentient AI has had nearly two centuries to develop this technology, and we cannot guess what such an intelligence might accomplish. Theorists have suggested that once AI begins to replicate itself, it will exponentially outstrip humanity.

Other technologies/topics depicted

Artificial intelligence:
People successfully create artificial intelligence in the early 21st century, but it turns against us and begins a war. In an attempt to cut off the artificial beings’ solar power supply, people darken the skies, devastating life on the surface.

In need of power, the artificial beings harvest bioenergy from a captive and unknowing humanity.

A more interesting and plausible reason to enslave humanity would be to use the unique information processing power of its brains. One path to AI may be combining computers with neural tissue. Once created, AI might find it useful to return the favor.

As for power sources, they could just use geothermal—the Earth’s internal heat is unaffected by sunlight. (Another reason, incidentally, that there will never be a city like Zion, near the Earth’s core.)

The agents battling Neo and his compatriots are discrete entities, self-aware and partly constrained by the rules of The Matrix. Agent Smith expresses his disgust at having to experience human reality, stench and all.

See: A note on artificial intelligence.

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The futures depicted in the movies