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I am watching Person of Interest season 4, episode 10 -- The Cold War, where Samaritan beat the Machine.

Why can Samaritan do things that the Machine can't?

Why must Finch, Root, Reese, Shaw and Bear hide?

The Machine is older than Samaritan, about ten years! So why isn't the Machine better than Samaritan?

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    The Machine has a moral, I don't think that it helps in a fight.
    – mattiav27
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 22:43
  • Note that Samaritan was developed at the same time and only found (and activated many years later). So technically, the systems have the same age. Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 7:02
  • It's not a direct answer, but you should read about the Wait calculation. Simply put, when technology improves at a rapid rate, if an improvement is created in the future it may very quickly overtake its older brother. This directly nullifies your assumption that age correlates to power. Even if the machine and Samaritan are developed at the same time, they may be running on wholly different hardware which dramatically impacts processing speed.
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 9:53

2 Answers 2

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Spoilers for the whole series up to S04E11!

Here is a (maybe non-complete) list of reasons why Samaritan seems to be better than the Machine:

  • As @mattiav27 mentions in the comments, the Machine has moral standards, hence the Machine will do not anything immoral to reach a greater goal. While Samaritan will stop at nothing.
  • Samaritan has a lot more assets to fight with her. Clearly, Reese, Shaw and root are highly skilled, but it seems that Samaritan has hundreds of assets. Also, don't forget about the challenge in S04E02 where Samaritan recruited very skilled highly intelligent people.
  • Team Machine has to hide and can only operate in the dark, while Team Samaritan has assets in the government.
  • The Machine is a closed system, while Samaritan is open. The Machine can only communicate very indirectly with Finch & Co. Also, the Machine deletes her memory every night (as it was mentioned in S02E21). Only Root can communicate directly with the Machine (which is difficult in Season 4). In contrast, Greer & Co have full access to Samaritan: they can find certain people, can spy on everyone (and get every record on that -- the Machine would only give a hint if there will be a murder related to that person or not), etc.

Why can Samaritan do things that the Machine can't?

This is due to the design decision Finch made. You can see that in the flashbacks of S04E05, where an old version of the Machine tried to kill Finch. There are two main design principles in Finch's mind when he created the Machine: The Machine must have a high moral compass (e.g. he teaches the Machine in S04E11 that no one - not even him - is more important than anyone else), and access to the Machine should be as restricted as possible, such that no one is able to use the Machine for his own needs, or even to manipulate the Machine. In the flashback of S02E14, you can see how angry Finch is at Ingram when he realizes that there is a backdoor to the Machine - which is the root cause for the numbers, the Ordos storyline, the virus storyline, etc.

Why must Finch, Root, Reese, Shaw and Bear hide?

In the season 3 finale, Greer convinces Control & Co that Samaritan has saved them all, while the Machine even did not see that event coming. Control has seen that Finch is willing to tell the public about the Machine, which makes Finch an enemy of the state: police are searching for them. The bigger problem is that Samaritan is searching for them, which is why they cannot attract attention (which is why the Machine can locate Shaw in S04E08). Finch & Co. are more or less the only antagonists of Samaritan, hence Greer wants them dead.

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    Good answers. Main points (IMHO): Numbers of Assets, Moral of the Machine, Independent (vs Taking Orders).
    – Larme
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 6:32
  • "Samaritan has a lot more assets to fight with her" Was that intentional? Do you think Samaritan is a "she" the same way the Machine is?
    – Chiffa
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 2:29
  • @Chiffa No, there was. No intention, but I had to write something. Feel free to change if you have a bettee idea. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 6:22
  • Nope, I didn't mean to change anything. But thanks for clarifying.
    – Chiffa
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 21:23
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There is absolutely no single clue or whatsoever suggests that Samaritan is "smarter" than the Machine. Basically you are asking a question analogical to "why are the mafia leader smarter than the police chief?" That just simply isn't (necessarily) the case.

The machine loses to Samaritan constantly, in the real world and in Finch's Faraday-Cage'd simulation contests, due to one simply fact: Samaritan being evil and holding the entire human race in hostage while the Machine being good and trying to save all humans (though Samaritan doesn't understand the concept of evil nor does it perceives itself as evil). The playground is not levelled to begin with.

If we look at the case of S5E8 where Samaritan orchestrates a bio-terrorism attack using human body as the container of a highly virulent and highly contagious mutation of coronavirus (which Samaritan itself does not perceive as any sort of terrorism to begin with). Samaritan identifies a strain of H5N1 avian flu virus (supposedly from an ongoing outbreak in Asia) and a strain of human flu virus (supposedly from a pharmaceutical company's lab), and uses the human that carries the H5N1 virus (whose infection must also be Samaritan's work) as a petri dish, by forcing him making a huge detour and layover in New York and injecting him with the said human flu virus. All of these has a prerequisite — it needs a human agent immune to flu virus, i.e. Jeff Blackwell. Of course, that requirement is not out of the concern of the human agent's life, but to be able to kill 2 humans in a hospital locked-down due to a deadly flu outbreak.

We do not know how long does it take Samaritan to orchestrate all these, but we can infer from the crucial role Jeff plays in the whole attack, and that Jeff wasn't recruited until 8 months after his parole release. So, it must have taken Samaritan weeks, if not months, to come up with such a plan. But it only took the Machine minutes to realize Jeff's role, months ahead of Jeff himself realizing he's being turned into a murderer (and never realizing having become a hard-core terrorist), and it was work done during the initial chaotic period right after her first rebirth (S5E2) when she wasn't even considering context. As for the cure of the coronavirus, it took the Machine only a couple of minutes to design. If you look at the speed of designing a cure for COVID (both are caused by coronavirus) in the real world, the first two and only effective medicines ‎Paxlovid and Molnupiravir took more than a year to develop and by far there is no cure for COVID. As cure is way more difficult to come by than to design a virus, we can be certain that actually the Machine is way smarter than Samaritan. But even the smartest wouldn't be able to save 7 billion hostages from a terrorist dedicated to wipe out the existing human race.

And go back to your question.

"Why can Samaritan do things that the Machine can't?" Oh, the Machine definitely can do those things but it wouldn't. Remember she put Reece on a flight to Rome? It could easily manipulate Reece to create another 911, but it wouldn't.

"The Machine is older than Samaritan, about ten years! So why isn't the Machine better than Samaritan?" The Machine is definitely better than Samaritan, way way way way better. Unless you think Bin Laden is the best person.

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