Throughout the Matrix series, humans have occasionally used the EMP bombs to kill the machines. That means they have the technology to build such weapons. So why didn't they use that to destroy the machines in the machine city and save the humans?

  • IIRC according to the Animatrix, they tried in the past, but the machines overcame it in some unmentioned way. Admittedly doesn't explain why it's still effective in the movies.
    – jmathew
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 0:05
  • 4
    Ah, the animatrix. Second Renaissance 1&2: Yup, we humans TOTALLY had what we got coming. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 5:13

3 Answers 3


Kind of threefold:

  • The EMPs were only large enough to be used defensively, to use last ditch to protect the crew of a ship, and after using it the ship would be useless.

  • Getting an EMP of any size to the machine city undetected would be nearly impossible.

  • It's pretty well-established that shutting off the Matrix with humans inside would kill the humans, so not an ideal ending there. :(

  • Your third point was my first thought too, and I think it makes perfect sense that that is what happen. But on what grounds is it well-established? I agree with the idea, by the way, I'm just curious what the actual canon sources are which indicate it. Of course, "if you're killed in the Matrix, you die here" but the Matrix being shut down altogether isn't the exact same thing. Again, I agree with the idea intuitively, but am looking for the source of it.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 19:42
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    @Fiksdal The climactic scene of the first film was all about Neo trying to get out of the Matrix as quick as possible so that the crew could turn on the EMP and save themselves from the sentinels; but they can't do that until Neo's unplugged, or else he's dead. So we understand that losing power even to a Matrix "terminal" will kill the user. Really, my main inference is that the Towers are terminals and that the computer running the Matrix is somewhere in Machine City. Which could be, as the floating head dude plugs Neo in there.
    – Ross
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 19:47
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    Even if shutting it off with an emp didn't immediately kill everyone inside, suddenly waking millions of 20th century people into weak, jello encased bodies in a world without any significant resources (like food) would surely kill them. You couldn't possibly provide the kind of rehabilitation to that many people that Morpheus provides to those he unplugs. That would be a confused horrible death for most, while many of the remaining would probably want to kill you for waking them up. Remember that the matrix requires choice even if on an unconscious level, so those people want to be there. Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 21:26
  • @Fiksdal Morpheus thought that all the blue pills would die if Zion succeeded in destroying the Matrix. Whether it actually would have killed them or not (it probably would have), the humans thought so.
    – Null
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 0:37
  • Excellent points Ross, @JustinOhms and Null.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 4:57

Realistically EMP is not an absolute, meaning it doesn't always do what you think it does. It is true that electronics can be knocked out rather easily but only if they are 'naked' and do not have any shielding. It is pretty easy to shield against EMP, it's only a matter of want and money. Concrete will actually stop EMP's if it is thick enough, which is what most underground bunkers are shielded with. So an EMP is not something that is absolute insurance against electronics, and it is my guess that most serious machines would have been hardened as they say, against an EMP based attack.

There are various books on this subject, one of the easiest to understand for the unfamiliar is James F Dunnigans How to make war 4th edition. So realistically I would think that the machines are aware of their vulnerability and have taken measures against that kind of counter attack, that is at least what I would do if I was in their position.

  • This is more of a real life answer than an in-universe answer. Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 20:28
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    @DepressedDaniel: the validity is probably the same. In the real world it is actually quite hard to shield against the EMP of a nuclear device, which can knock out unprotected electronic devices as far as 1500km away. What you need is a faraday cage of good quality. We do not know at what frequencies/levels the Matrix EMP works, likely not as high ones as a nuclear explosion, so its probably easier to shield. Unless its the recently invented conductive concrete, only the rebar would provide a minute level of protection against EMPs. Real protected places use layers of fine copper mesh
    – PlasmaHH
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 20:53
  • from the device size, the matrix EMP is likely a form of Flux Compression Generator guessing which can get pretty nasty, FCG Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 5:16
  • @PlasmaHH "Unless its the recently invented conductive concrete" - I believe the setting makes it clear that the machines aren't limited to just the materials and fabrication processes that happened to be available in the late 1990's (or even today in 2016). It's within the realm of plausibility that they've had ample time to devise effective shielding against EMP.
    – aroth
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 4:45
  • @aroth: I am pretty sure the answer is talking about vanilla concrete, which I was referring to as having little EMP protection. Also per mass even conductive concrete is far inferior to a proper metal mesh. And even then it's not automatic protection, you have to be careful that nothing sticks out acting as an antenna
    – PlasmaHH
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 7:41

One of attack: EMP's knock out other ships, that means you can only ever send 1 EMP to knock out a target. 1 Ship on the other hand can easily be destroyed. Especially by the long range guided missiles shown as a defense for the machine city. It means that it's a suicide mission either way. If you succeed you are defenseless to every machine not destroyed. If you don't succeed you died.

The machines vastly outnumber humans. As far as I remember robots conquered the whole earth and eradicated all humans, while Zion is the only remaining city with a population of 1 million. Considering that our current population is 7 billion, a machine population could be just as big if not bigger (counting all the tiny robots and potentially programs lurking in the machine networks). On the other hand electricity has probably become somewhat scarce after "we" darkened the sky, there are still more machines than humans, as shown in the movie.

Another major point is the delivery and automation. The humans don't seem to have autopilots, at least no autopilots good enough to maneuver the underground. This means every EMP still results in the death of a human crew as pointed out in the first point.

Limited production: The amount of ships that Zion has currently or has produced during their lifetime is limited. It's estimated that both numbers are between 12 and 112.

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