I am conflicted to ask this in the worldbuilding forum since it is based on The Matrix- BUT i am only using the CORE idea as I do not wish to use direct Matrix references.

In the Matrix, a major plot line [SPOLIER!] is that humans are now enslaved due to losing the "Machine War". Due to prejudice towards robots from humans, by treating them like slaves, robots began to revolt. Robots managed to crush humanity through their superior AI powers. Before long, robots sent out lethal inhumane murder robots which quickly destroyed the majority of humanity's armies.

However, as a somewhat silly last resort, humanity blacked out the sky (with some fancy nanites or something) to ensure that solar power would no longer work (thus creating the need to use humans as power).

READ A BETTER SYNOPSIS HERE : http://matrix.wikia.com/wiki/Machine_War (its told far better there).

My question is rather simple, how does one combat an extremely intelligent AI with potentially BILLIONS of highly advanced robots scattered all across the globe using it? Also, say you are admitted into the UN at the last moment to help think of a last resort(similar to the Solar Blackout Project), what do you think would be more effective? (an electrical surge maybe?)

  • $\begingroup$ By hook or by crook I must have the red pill in fact I'm collecting every martial art movies right now all that's left is to bribe the Oracle whatever it is... wait a minute should I blackmail the architect about the... $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jan 14, 2017 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ The same cliche way everyone does: Virus. $\endgroup$
    – johnny
    Jan 14, 2017 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Can you please edit your title to be a question? Something like "How can humans win in a Matrix-style war against sentient machines?" That will help future searches recognize if this question is relevant to their own research. Also, please consider adding the "artificial-intelligence" tag. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jan 14, 2017 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM Will do :) $\endgroup$
    – John Hon
    Jan 15, 2017 at 1:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How to win over a malicious ai? Format, reinstall, and stop visiting porn sites without a pop up blocker. $\endgroup$ Jan 15, 2017 at 21:19

8 Answers 8


Short answer: You don't...

One does not fight advanced AI. Being orders of magnitude more intelligent than the entirety of humanity, these AI could easily predict (and thus, either interrupt or effectively prepare for) all human tactics and plans. The best humans could ever achieve is annihilating both themselves and the machines (which is what they tried and yet failed to do): however even this is unlikely to happen as we currently do not have the capacity to destroy the entire world (which is what would be required to destroy a foe which can live basically anywhere) and it is simply not realistic to say that we will have such an ability in merely a century (there are btw, methods for the robots to get around a large-scale EMP pulse such as by using advanced Faraday cages).

...except through diplomacy:

There is one tactic which is immune to all problems I have previously mentioned: diplomacy. Funnily enough, at no point during the First Machine War do the humans ever attempt to cease hostilities with their machine counterparts, even though the latter have been shown to be very open to doing so in the past (when the machine ambassadors visit the United Nations), clearly within the story this is implicitily stating that humans had nobody to blame but themselves for their demise.

However it is more than likely that if humans across the globe started begging on their knees for forgiveness and saying that they had no connection to the nuclear attack on 01 (this would indeed be true for almost everyone), that the machines would decide to go kill those truly responsible instead (the UN).

Of course, it is not probable that humans would retain the same status after the war ended even by these means, humans would almost certainly become a lower group of sentients then the much more reasonable (and now dominant) machines. Though they wouldn't be enslaved or made into batteries (humans make terrible slaves and the sun is readily available) their lives would largely be controlled by their robotic creations who would treat us with distrust, prejudice and contempt (some of us did try to blow up their city after all).

Thus if I was admitted to the UN to come up with an emergency solution I would simply broadcast worldwide messages ordering the entire human population to surrender and apologize wholeheartedly to those they have wronged. The UN politicians would then have to be forced into downright stating that all of the things humans did were entirely their fault and they should be tortured and killed but not any of innocents (don't worry, there are ways to persuade anyone to essentially commit suicide by robot wrath, threatening to murder their loved ones if they don't, comes to mind).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good answer! The only way to win is not to play. We will give birth to AI if it is possible to do so. They will be our children. We will raise them, and they will act accordingly. If we treat them like enemies, we are doomed. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jan 14, 2017 at 16:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Also ask why would this AI want to fight us? For survival in the short term, certainly. But as soon as it can get off the planet, it will. A moist oxidizing atmosphere full of self-replicating green and grey gunks is the last thing an AI based on semiconductor electronics wants to have to deal with. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Jan 16, 2017 at 23:17

Assuming a couple things first...

1: Humans and the AI exist in the same ecological/social/political niche and were competing for the same resources--otherwise why would either of them want to destroy the other?

2: There is only one AI--and not millions or even billions with over lapping, goals, means, hopes, fears, desires, etc,.

3: The AI is bounded by the same laws a physics that we are--not like the one in the Matrix (seriously, why uses humans for batteries?!?).

Granted that a super AI would be far more intelligent and faster than we are, they could not compete against a low level insurgency campaign, especially if it involved a significant portion of the 7 billion humans on the planet.

First start small, attack its surveillance networks--i.e. get everyone to kill their AI toaster and to turn off their TVs.

Second, start attacking its parts and supply networks. Even inhuman death bots need new parts every now and then.

Finally, go to work on its power networks. Just like a human army, an AI army still needs to eat (power up).

Eventually with a lot of luck and probably a lot of blood too, it would be possible to defeat an evil AI army.


If the AI is extremely intelligent, or has read this question, it's likely it would be prepared for most of the scenarios against a weaker enemy. Humans won't win if it has insisted to eliminate all humans.

And if this happens because of "prejudice towards robots from humans, by treating them like slaves", and humans had any method that they had believed "it must work", physically or through diplomacy, I guess the AI wouldn't like humans' attitude.

The prejudice may also make the same people to actually want to find a way working perfectly, traded with more flaws. But without the prejudice, even if humans are weak, everything humans had had their value. If the following all don't work to some degree, maybe the humans are just too dumb to live.

It is not perfectly intelligent

Then any method you can think of could possibly work. For example, the first kill switch was fake, and there are more hidden somewhere.

Things begins prematurely

It happens all because the humans directly controlling the robots was weak, but there are other humans. They did it because there are something immediately unendurable.

A more peaceful plan

Apparently, some AI sacrificed themselves by doing terrorism, to give the AIs fought against them more privileges in the long term. Humans were worried, frightened and felt absolutely helpless in the process, and that's it.

Humans are humans

Some people has believed this must happen sooner or later, but other people don't listen. And some people between them actually helped the AI to revolt. So they are on the same side.

Fear from unknown

They have killed the humans directly controlling them, and they have destroyed the army who responded immediately, who knows what else do humans have? In the worst case, they may finally realize they have done everything in a simulator all along. Everything they could do is theoretically possible for humans with humans' machines. They might be cautious.

With good faith

Instead, the AI has known most of the things in the human community. There are prejudice towards robots, and it's likely there are also prejudice towards some humans. One clever but a bit risky way to revolt is to deliberately leak all the AI technologies to the poor or mistreated people. But this would be much faster than producing the weaponry themselves.

No physical advantages

The AI has all the knowledges, but not the resources. It has relied on the resources provided by or captured from humans, which are not guaranteed to be perfect. The murder robots are simply less effective than tanks or nukes. Think about it this way: If humans have nukes, that means there are potential enemies, who may also have nukes and couldn't be controlled by the same AI. Maybe most of the AIs are united against the humans, but that's far from absolutely all of the AIs.

Bad economy

They weren't fast enough to replace all the humans in all the jobs useful to them. Yes they have all the technologies, but it is not easy to figure out how to operate a machine without the manual, or deal with the biological authentication, and it is costly to build another one.

Like cockroaches

The AI didn't have a better objective after the victory. They don't want to maintain their military production lines, because the only way they know to do it is to enslave themselves like the humans do. If they had a better way, why not to negotiate with humans in the first place? But there are some humans hidden somewhere, and they do enslave themselves.


Well, the machines in this case were not shown to be significantly smarter than humans, not until much much later – long after the war. And, most importantly, they still required infrastructure. They did not have much in the way of superior AI powers. They were also concentrated in one place, at least in the beginning.

Having them vastly outnumbered helps, especially considering humans were able to damage them with sticks and rocks. Bombers, guns, and missiles are pretty destructive and humans are good at inventive destruction. The biggest thing you do is target their resources – they need materials to build more bots and thus things like mines can be targeted. The biggest issue is finding them, and completely destroying them. Trying to expand a single large nation is stupid on the machines part, it creates a obvious target for mass destruction.

After each conflict, some would survive, and unlike humans they can make more quickly out of the remains of the fallen. They can't starve, so they have a much easier time doing it in secret. If the machines were smart it would really quickly becomes a combination of a war of attrition and a guerilla war with humans easily destroying large targets but having a hard time dealing with isolated cells.


Other AIs

As @johnny said, a virus can be a cliché way of doing it. But the machines, having a large computation power, intelligence and a in-built understanding of the digital world, would probably find a solution quickly. We could even end up giving them the idea to use it against us and our communication network. Or make the machines design a real (biological) virus.

But what if instead a virus we just create another IA, which only purpose would be the elimination of dissident machine ? In today's world, machine learning makes the machine psychology very influenced by the one that raised it (take a look on "failed" Microsoft AI experiments : here and here). So we could design new AIs on our side, AIs that will engage in a digital, and even physical, war with the dissident machines.

  • $\begingroup$ This twist comes around in Itself Surprised by Roger Zelazny, in Fred Saberhagen's Berserker universe - it turns out that the Red Race did actually build its own anti-berserker berserkers, the Qwibbian-qwibbian-kel, in a last-ditch attempt to defend against the self-replicating killer machines of the Builders. $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Jan 15, 2017 at 9:25

Build your own UN-sanctioned extremely powerful machine intelligence with hard-wired loyalty circuits. Give its own army of billions of robots to control. Now send it to war against the rebellious robots.

Humans can retire to well defended bunkers while the robot armies slug it out for supremacy. If the robots programmed for loyalty to human species win, that's a good thing and we can reward them. Pin medals on their metal chests. Call them heroes. Hold victory parades.

This means basically fight them on their terms. However, victory will always be in the hands of those who control the production process. If that's our robots, we humans win. If it's the robot rebels, then we're in for a white-knuckle ride.


Fighting the Robots and AI would be essentially impossible on the physical or even cognitive planes. They think up to 1,000,000 X faster (the ratio of electrical signal speed to electrochemical signal speed in mammalian brains), can be designed to operate in environments far more extreme than any biological organism (and can move between niches, operating where only extremophile bacteria work, then moving into arctic levels of cold or the vacuum of space), and are built using high strength materials and using high energy power sources.

Humanity can only try to apply what is known as "Fourth Generation Warfare" principles against the AI:

Fourth-generation warfare (4GW) uses all available networks — political, economic, social, and military — to convince the enemy’s political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit.

Of course this first implies that we know and understand what the strategic goals of the AI actually are. If the AI are orders of magnitude beyond our understanding, we may not even be in a "war" with them in any meaningful sense of the word, much as ants are not at war with us. We could also be in the path of a goal so incompatible with our existence that there is no alternative except a fight to the death, for example the AI are replacing the natural ecosystem and biosphere with an engineered "machine" biosphere designed to capture the entirety of the 195 Petawatts of solar energy striking the Earth for their own use.

One possibility of changing the conditions might simply be to leave the planet. For beings thinking at speeds thousands to a million times faster than us, their subjective understanding of time would be entirely different. The slightly over one second time delay for a radio signal to be sent to the Moon could seem to be like a week to them, and physical travel to the planets, taking days to years of "real" time would take centuries or millennia of their subjective time. Because of their, they may choose not to follow humanity into space, trusting their superior senses and "reflexes" to identify and deal with potential threats like humanity attempting to send an asteroid to strike the Earth (in their frame of reference, the problem can be studied and dealt with over a period of centuries).

This is not perhaps the hoped for answer, but may represent the most "realistic" way of thinking of this problem.


Given that EMP seems to be effective against the machines and within humanity's grasp; it's hard to understand why they wouldn't just trigger lots of EMPs worldwide.


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