As you can see, the AI is active on the computer without the use of a power cord. I thought about a possibility on how AI can manipulate electrons to generate electricity(creating its own power source). I also found answers like having wireless energy and having a built-in battery that stores a lot of electricity. I just want to clarify if "AI manipulating electrons to generate electricity" is a possibility.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe, what you're referring to is the exact same system used in the personal, portable information manipulator. Otherwise known as laptops. When I unplug mine it has a battery that it can engage on its own (no AI needed) to keep itself running. As with all alternatives you find, you will need to get the power from somewhere, your AI can charge up a battery but you won't find a solution for it creating energy from no power at all. $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2017 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ Does the AI control anything that isn't on that computer? Could it have some equipment in the next room pointed at the "off" computer? $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Feb 14, 2017 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ By power cord do you mean power source? Because batteries are a thing. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 14, 2017 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ How about a powerful Telsa coil, perhaps at a nearby location such as a science museum? Maybe it is also blue-tooth accessible. $\endgroup$
    – mbomb007
    Feb 14, 2017 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Unless your AI hardware was already built with an alternate power source other than the power cord, it cannot magically utilize an auxillary power source. However with some preplanning the AI could alter its hardware to add e.g. a wireless power receiver to itself without its owner noticing/knowing (either by convining someone else to do it or by manipulating anything it can control, e.g. a robot). $\endgroup$
    – Durandal
    Feb 14, 2017 at 17:43

6 Answers 6



When it comes to energy, then TANSTAAFL applies: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Or in plain language: you cannot get something from nothing.

If your A.I. is going to "manipulate electrons", then it needs energy to do that. But energy was the goal here; your A.I. is trying to get energy. Which means figuratively your A.I. is trying to lift itself from the ground by pulling on its own hair. This — for obvious reasons — will not work.

Your A.I. cannot spend energy to get more energy unless there is something else that will provide that energy, that is to say an energy source, like a wind driven generator, light powered photo-voltiac panel, miniature fusion reactor, wall socket and so on.

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    $\begingroup$ Thermodynamics applies unless the AI in question is awesome $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 14, 2017 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs "There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch," unless you're MultiVax. Then there's a free lunch because you are the free lunch! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 14, 2017 at 17:11

An AI is just a computer program

If the computer doesn't have access to electricity the computer program won't work, and it seems highly unlikely that the owner would forget about batteries.

You give an example of the AI controlling electrons, but you seem to be overestimating AIs. They are not magic (unless you want them to be in your story), they are just very complex computer programs, much like our brain is a very complex biological structure.

They simply cannot control things at will, they need to be connected to something to "control" it. If they are connected to the internet through a cable or Wi-Fi then they can browse the web just like a normal person.

Possible Solution

What you could do instead is have the AI contact someone online and pay them money to come into the house and install hidden batteries on the computer. The house would need to have doors with smart locks as to allow the AI to communicate with them through Wi-Fi or bluetooth and unlock them.

This way the computer would have hidden batteries that the owner would not know about and he would be terrified when the computer wouldn't turn off after the plug was off.

This could be easily solved by just wrecking the computer though

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the AI also asked someone to install an R2-D2 style shock-probe or taser with its own power source.... Also, the AI wouldn't need to unlock the doors if the person the AI contacted had access to a bump key or lock picks. Since the installation is being done stealthily, one could assume some things about the person. $\endgroup$
    – mbomb007
    Feb 14, 2017 at 17:16

No... but maybe

First things first, computers must obey the law of conservation of energy. They cannot generate power "out of thin air." They need to get it from somewhere, whether its a wallsocket, a battery, or wireless energy sources. That's just reality. It's the same reality which explains why you have to eat food. If the computer were to "manipulate electrons" to generate electricity," you can be 100% proof-positive-without-a-doubt-certain that it wasted more energy manipulating those electrons than it gained by using them from electricity. Not even quantum mechanics can trump that guarantee (though it does get close from time to time)

However, the story can get interesting when we start to discuss how much power the AI needs. Our modern computers are grossly inefficient in this regard because they are very dependent on being able to switch between True and False, 1 and 0, with great certainty. Once we quit providing power, things are less certain. The AI has to work with "what is left."

It turns out quite a lot is left. RAM data stays around for many seconds after power is turned off. In fact, if you chill the RAM substantailly, the information stored there can stay around for minutes. If you plug the AI back in, it can then start where it left off!

Dissapearing data!

Now current computers cannot modify the data in this cold metastable state. The circuitry is just not designed for it. However, some circuitry of the future might. There's increasing interest in low power circuitry. IBMs synaptic neural chips drive the power-per-computation so low that you even start to accept errors like real neural networks must. In this low power world, options start to appear.

Once you get to a low enough level of power, you can start using power sources you didn't know you had. For example, in the above example with the Mona Lisa, there was a predictable failure mode where different chips failed to high voltages, while others failed to low voltages. This means a low power AI might be able to exploit that tiny little bit of power to do calculations.

Also, when you get low enough, wireless transmissions start to become a reasonable source of power. Everyone has heard the 60Hz hum caused by unshielded audio electronics around power lines. Well, the electromagnetic fields causing that hum can carry power. A frugal enough AI might be able to survive just sipping on this power.

The question here would be how frugal the AI can get, vs how sloppy you are in removing power sources. The more creative the AI can be, the more complete you have to be in removing power sources. It also means you have to be willing to wait longer for things to leave a metastable state, to make sure the data is truly lost. On modern hardware, the AI doesn't stand a chance. However, in a futuristic realm, the power requirements to keep the computations going might be low enough to pull this off.

Of course, there are indeed other ways to stop an AI: Lightning

  • $\begingroup$ Could nanotechnology be a possibility? $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2017 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ @AnonymousInquirer What about nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is bound by every law of physics non-nanotech computers are. The exact same set of rules apply. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 16, 2017 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon True, but the nanites if this is far future can each have some kind of storage capacity for storing the energy, whereever it may come from so is harder uninstall than a battery. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2017 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby As it turns out, one of the major challenges with exploring nanotechnology is that it's really hard to store power on those scales, so such nanites would probably make a poor battery. On the other hand, if the AI has access to nanites, they really are no longer just an "AI in a computer." They can now physically manipulate the world around them, and that makes it a very different question.. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 16, 2017 at 4:03
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon It would change everything, yes. I am coming at it from a future sci-fi angle and assuming that some of those problems could be solved. It's an insurmountable problem now but it might not be in a different world at a different time. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2017 at 16:08

This is being worked on.

It's called Wireless Power Transmission.

It's the dream to have devices that don't need to be plugged in--it's not yet widely available and doesn't work very efficiently and would need specialized parts to achieve, but it is bleeding edge tech.

Methods include using radio waves to power devices, directed electromag beams or even radioactive beams.

If this is near future, you can adapt the tech to run on ambient radio waves already present in the air--which are then converted into the electrons you need.

I think the key is looking thoroughly into the wireless tech you've already looked into and ramping things up several notches. It's not possible now, but in 40 or 50 years, it could be.

I still think that you'll need a battery. Converting radio waves to a source of power will be taxing, so I think your AI should have a way to store that energy and replace it. If the battery is removed, the AI might be converting the energy and using it, but would be limited by the lack of storage. A lot of its energy would be devoted just to staying powered, if there's not a place to put it, depending on how efficient the system is.

You could even have a main battery and several back up "power stations" within the casing that are part of the system, more difficult to remove and aren't necessarily labeled as batteries, although they might be a way to store power and get it to critical systems. The AI could use those those as temporary storage as it generates more energy, but I am sure it would want its main battery back.

Raw manipulation of electrons doesn't seem quite possible, even in 100 years, so I am going to say that in order to do that, your AI needs something to start the process. Something ambient, that's in the air all the time (such as radio waves) would be a great way to jump start its process.

Digging down on next gen wireless energies is what you want to do. I suggest radio waves, but the source could be anything from light to magnets to microwaves. I suggested radio waves because they are present all the time in this day and age, and it would be an easy source to begin with.

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    $\begingroup$ But who would build a computer with that many backups and then only pull the power cord to "kill" the AI? $\endgroup$
    – user31746
    Feb 14, 2017 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Masterzagh Someone who doesn't know any better. Maybe the AI built itself. We've got tech building tech these days--and in 50 years, who knows. People might just care that it works and might not look too deeply into understanding HOW. The direct power might make things easier for the AI (which is why it might be plugged in) and the back up power might not be meant to be used that way (might be a system just to make power transfer faster) but the AI may certainly take advantage of it. $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2017 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ Time does not matter, but some logic does(not too much logic). I think possibilities do not stick to 100% reality, but rather using reasonable predictions. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2017 at 1:07


Build and attach a miniature particle accelerator (is there a reason they have to be so big?) to the computer. http://home.cern/about/how-accelerator-works

When energy supply is low, create antimatter to fuel reaction with matter, which I hear is even going to provide the needed energy without any waste material left behind. Although theoretically the supply would eventually be exhausted without a method of replenishing the matter source, it's likely the computer will deteriorate sooner than that.



Basically what you describe is a AI controlled Battery Management System. On one hand it has the capability of controlling energy storages and energy supply(batteries and solar panels) which fulfils "generate electricity":

BMS on Wikipedia

On the other hand it still can do whatever your AI has to do. Without any power cord attached.

The BMS itself doesn't necessarily have to be programmed software, but can be replaced by some future version of TI's BQ769xx chips

  • $\begingroup$ Eh no, because once that BMS has run dry, then the power is out. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Feb 14, 2017 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ Eh yes, because it uses it's on in the batteries stored energy for self support. The batteries are charged by solar power. $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2017 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ Then it is not "creating its own electricity" by "manipulating electrons" but it is plugged in to an external power source with a battery buffer in between. Just because the socket does not have a major utility company behind it does not mean the computer is any less plugged into an external source of power. And OP specifically asked for the AI to "create its own electricity", not "get its electricity from an external source". $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Feb 14, 2017 at 11:44

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