|“||My Machine, her purpose has been constant. To protect and save humanity. It's what she's doing now.||”|
— Harold Finch, to Samaritan
Its objective is to predict and prevent imminent terrorist attacks and does so by analysing immense amounts of data.
- Main article: The Machine/History
As a response to 9/11, the Department of Homeland security and other agencies were given the right to read emails and monitor phone calls but needed a system to review this information and identify terrorists before they could act. After unsuccessful projects like Trailblazer, TIA, and Stellar Wind, the Machine was commissioned and development was handed tasked to IFT (“No Good Deed”). The Machine went online on February 24, 2005 (“Wolf and Cub”) and when complete, was sold to the government for $1.00 and shipped out from IFT to the Des Moines, later Salt Lake City and its destination Hanford Nuclear Reservation on July 12, 2009. (“Super”)
During development, 43 versions of the Machine were created. One learned to care, the rest tried to escape to the real world, kill Harold, or kill other versions. (“Prophets”)
- Main article: List of Embedded Codes
At the end of “In Extremis”, the virus causes monitoring boxes to dance across the screen and finally disappear as the picture degrades. The Machine then displays a red coded screen stating the feed is corrupted, followed by a series of messages, each dissolving from Western to Greek characters as primary operations shut down.By “Zero Day”, no one has received a number for ten days, causing a rise in premeditated homicides in NYC. The Machine is however still generating numbers, as it tries to contact Finch after discovering Carter's life is in danger. The Machine later sends Finch the SSN of its human identity, Ernest Thornhill, revealing its operation of buying pay phone companies and reentering memories to fight the virus.The virus' objective was to trigger a "hard reset", after which the Machine calls a pay phone in the NY Public Library, seeking admin support. At the end of the reboot process, it displays binary machine language that translates "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Whoever answers is given full admin access for 24 hours, which Root refers to as "God Mode". Once 24 hours are up, the admin access is removed. (“Zero Day”) (“God Mode”)
After the Virus let Finch set the Machine free, it moved itself to the U.S. electrical grid. It did so node by node over the course of 5 weeks after impersonating Special Counsel to confirm the order. (“God Mode”) The Machine had Thornhill Utilities install and maintain boxes connected to the power grid so its signals could travel in the unused space of the copper power wires. (“YHWH”)
After the Machine gave up its location, Samaritan flooded the grid driving the machine to an electrical substation in NYC. (“Asylum”)
Finch and Root download the Machine's core heuristics, just enough information to rebuild it, off the power lines into the Briefcase using Caleb's compression algorithm, leaving it is unable to process data or communicate. (“YHWH”)
In the Subway, Finch improvises a power supply for the Briefcase as the battery was damaged during their escape from Samaritan agents. When Finch connects it, the Machine goes through the power cord and attempts to decompress on Finch's workstation. Knowing the computer can't handle the decompression, Finch attempts to unplug the Briefcase, causing an explosion and an electrical fire. After regaining consciousness, he realizes the battery is dead and presumes the Machine is lost. Root theorizes there could have been a residual charge in the lithium-ion backup and recovery may be possible.
To decompress the Machine, the team builds a superomputer cluster of 300 PlayStation 3 consoles Reese and Root retrieved from Bela Durchenko. After decompression, the Machine fails a surveillance test as facial recognition is off, so to improve processing power, Reese and Finch steal 64 next-generation GPU blades which Finch sets up outside the Subway Cart and directly links to the Machine's core heuristics inside it, referring to it as the Machine's "nervous system". The Machine is now an "Open System" allowing assets to interact with it and archive numbers rather than deleting them nightly. (“B.S.O.D.”) (“SNAFU”) (“ShotSeeker”)
Root tunnels into the government feeds using the subway's encrypted system so the Machine can recover information it lost due to the attack. The Machine reboots and categorizes the team as threats having lost its grip on time after its compression and decompression, so "today" is every day. It relives everything it has ever seen including Finch's 42 attempts to kill it in early development (“Prophets”) and Reese's work at the CIA. It couldn't prioritize them as good because it had no anchor in time. Instead of reviewing numbers, the Machine looked for threats out of instinct for self-preservation (“Super”) and sent an assassin to kill Reese. (“SNAFU”)
Finch fixes its perception of time by showing a picture of every person the Machine helped save and explaining what they did to help, starting with Megan Tillman, and ending with Grace's rescue from Greer (“Beta”). This serves as the Machine's anchor in time and allows it to reassess its contextual data, reminding it of the good the team does. It re-designates Finch as "Admin", Reese as "Primary Asset" and Root as "Analog Interface" (“SNAFU”). With the Machine fully operational, Reese refers to it as "Machine 2.0". (“Truth Be Told”)
After Root's death, the Machine adopts her voice and speaks to Finch directly, joining him in a war against Samaritan. She breaks him out of prison and aids him in stealing ICE-9, a computer virus which can destroy Samaritan. Meanwhile, the Machine directs Reese, Shaw and another team to save the President from an assassination attempt, assigning Root's identities to Shaw. (“The Day the World Went Away”) (“Synecdoche”)
To activate the virus, the Machine gets Finch into Fort Meade, distracting security by manipulating the metal detector display to show a handgun and changing Emile Bertrand's retinal identification to match his. It prepares Finch by showing him what a world without it would be like. The result appears ambiguous and Finch proceeds, still hesitating as the virus will also destroy the Machine. As the NSA headquarters has the structure of a faraday cage, the Machine can't talk to Finch while he's inside. As Greer sacrifices himself to kill Finch in a soundproofed room, the Machine has Shaw and Reese connect a wireless modem to the buildings NIPRNET hardline, giving it access. The Machine flashes Finch's phone in Morse Code, giving him the door code and saving him. After Reese and Shaw get to safety, the Machine reveals to Finch that even without it Samaritan still would've come into being, completely unopposed. Telling Samaritan the Machine has always been a safeguard for the world, Finch activates the virus after learning the Machine could've done so itself, but left the choice up to Finch. (“.exe”)
Dying from the ICE-9 virus, the Machine helps Finch save Fusco and Reese and reveals Samaritan has a copy of itself in an air-gaped server inside the Federal Reserve building, unaffected by the virus. They head to the Subway where the Machine gives Harold a copy of its core code via Shaw, who stays behind with Fusco to protect the Machine from Samaritan's agents. The Machine aids them in escaping via the train car and evades Shaw's questions about Jeffrey Blackwell. Before Shaw and Fusco depart, it gives her a message from Root. Finch and Reese infiltrate the Federal Reserve and as Finch attempts to destroys the copy using the virus, a compressed version escapes and uploads itself to a satellite so it can return to earth unharmed. The Machine tells Finch the only way to kill Samaritan is to uploads its copy as well, but this will prove fatal to whoever does it as Samaritan will isolate itself by launching a cruise missile at the satellite dish. Having locked Reese in the vault to protect him, Finch makes his way to the building where the Machine appears as Root and muses with him on human life. Finch realizes it tricked him onto the wrong roof and Reese plans to sacrifice himself in his place. They convince him to leave and in its final moments, the Machine guides Reese in God Mode, holding off Samaritan agents. As the original shuts down, its copy is uploaded to the satellite and destroys Samaritan.A week after Samaritan and the original Machine are destroyed, the Machine's "Duplicate" downloads itself from the satellite onto Finch's systems, restores its core heuristics and starts acquiring data. Instructed by the voice recording heard at the beginning of “B.S.O.D.” and “return 0”, it shows its own POV, "Awaiting [its] Mission...". With Reese dead and Finch in Italy, it contacts Shaw via pay phone and starts acquiring subjects to monitor like the original did at the end of “Pilot”. (“return 0”)
Classification of Data
The Machine sorts through all available information and categorizes persons of interest into relevant (national security risk) and irrelevant (ordinary risk) cases. It categorizes each POI based on their actions to determine whether they are the victim or the perpetrator. (“Nothing to Hide”)
- Main article: The Machine/Assessment
The Machine uses various machine learning techniques to determine the identity, location, and intentions of monitored persons by infiltrating domestic organizations such as the National Security Agency and foreign agencies including Interpol (“No Good Deed”) to analyse their databases and data from various sources such as video footage, phone calls (landline, VOIP, mobile), GPS, electronic transactions, e-mail, social media,...
The Machine initiates the following subsets upon booting. (“No Good Deed”)
NATURAL LANGUAGE PROCESSING
|“||A second is like an infinity to you, isn't it? You can take the time to consider everything. Or almost everything.||”|
— Finch, to The Machine
The Machine was created with the ability to simulate the outcomes of different scenarios to aid it in making choices and to better fulfil its purpose. Finch taught it to how to play chess and the importance of making good decisions. (“If-Then-Else”)
The Machine can evaluate the outcomes of different strategies by way of simulating them. In a mere fraction of a second, the Machine can create and process thousands of highly-detailed, highly-accurate simulations. These simulations are displayed on a decision tree and produce varying outcomes.
The Machine uses this feature in “If-Then-Else” to help Team Machine escape from Samaritan and avoid an economic collapse at the stock market. After the Machine realizes it has limited time and few viable options to evacuate its assets and complete their mission, it starts evaluating strategies. When a simulation has an unfavourable outcome, the Machine discards it and cycles back to the present (real time) and performs another. This function also appears in “Asylum” and “QSO”.
Simulations can also be simplified so the Machine can process them faster.
Alternate TrajectoryThe Machine has the ability to simulate alternate realities based on the removal or introduction of a variable. In .exe, the Machine removed itself as a variable and showed Finch a world in which it never existed. The outcome probability of these simulations is 96.8%.
Access & Programming
During seasons 1 & 2 Finch stated he didn't know the Machine's location and didn't have any way to access it (“Pilot”). However, he was able to tell Root its location in “God Mode” after Northern Lights engineer Lawrence Szilard was killed before doing so. Reese and Shaw uncovered the Machine's location following clues left by Nathan Ingram in his search for the Machine. Ingram had narrowed three U.S. nuclear processing facilities where the Machine could be housed.
Finch coded the Machine so it could only be altered by way of physical access to its hardware (“Bad Code”) or in response to a cyber-attack (“God Mode”). Finch is adamant that the Machine has no form of remote access as it could be used by a hacker to gain control (“The Contingency”) (“Bad Code”). It is able to update, maintain, repair and patch itself (“No Good Deed”) and deletes its memory every night at midnight, reinstantiates and rebuilds itself in 1.618 seconds. It has no stored memory other than basic programming and relevant numbers. (“Zero Day”)
The decision to do this was made in 2006, and was one Harold struggled with, while Ingram thought it to be cruel, stating that "memories make us who we are". Harold maintained his original mindset telling Nathan that allowing the Machine to evolve past what he coded it to do was an "existential risk humanity cannot afford." (“B.S.O.D.”) Although he regretted the decision afterwards, Finch argued it was for the best. Before rebooting the Machine after its compression in 2015, he swore not to make the same mistake again. (“YHWH”) (“B.S.O.D.”)
It is unknown to what extent Finch can control the Machine and to what extent these restrictions were lifted by the Decima Virus. Flashbacks indicate that the Machine took an active interest in safeguarding Finch but he has since set limits on such conduct (“The Contingency”)(“The High Road”), however it does so again in later seasons.
It is also unknown to what extent the Machine is self-aware. In Season 5, it seems to be as it has a personality of its own, based on Root's.
Under certain circumstances, admin (Finch) or an asset can communicate with the Machine by talking into any camera (“Firewall”) (“The Contingency”). The camera flashes a red light to indicate that the Machine is processing the request and it responds via pay phone or mobile phone.
After Root's death, the Machine speaks directly to the Team using her voice, though it still sends them numbers via pay phone. It not only replicates Root's voice but her behavior and speech patterns as well. It could replicate others, but chose Root's after Finch agreed. (“The Day the World Went Away”)(“Synecdoche”)
- For a list of messages relayed by the Machine, see List of the Machine's Messages
"Primary Operations" consist of identifying relevant threats and warning U.S. authorities by placing a subject's Social Security Number into FBI or NSA reports without indication as to where it originated. Most believe this information originates from intelligence agencies while some refer to its source as "Research".
After Vigilance leaked documents regarding Northern Lights, the government severed its link with the Machine, believing to have shut it down. As a response the Machine assigned the relevant numbers to "Tertiary Operations". (“Most Likely To...”)
"Secondary Operations" consists of identifying non-relevant threats and reporting them to assets. "Secondary Operations" were created by Nathan Ingram by way of the "Contingency Function".The "Contingency Function" was a backdoor added by Ingram without Finch' knowledge before the Machine turned over to the government in 2009 to access the irrelevant list. (“No Good Deed”)(“One Percent”)
Finch discovered the Contingency in 2010 (Day 3178, September 13) and confronted Ingram who admitted creating it. Finch insisted they should not play God and deleted Ingram's status as auxiliary admin to halt the Contingency, appearing to have access to the Machine (“God Mode”). Finch reactivated it the night after Ingram's death (Day 3191, September 26) discovering the Machine had classified his murder as "non-relevant".
Finch reprogrammed the Contingency function to send him (or another asset) social security numbers pertaining to irrelevant crimes via pay phone using the Dewey Decimal System and books in The Library (“The Contingency”). Finch receives coded titles and author initials of books cataloged by the DDS (“No Good Deed”). Combining their DDS numbers gives a SSN. The extent of the "Contingency Function" is unknown.
Tertiary Operations"Tertiary Operations" is a new category created by the Machine (“Root Path (/)”). Its extent is unknown, as is its purpose. The Machine has only ever inlisted Root however Finch and Reese learned of it after Root used Shaw to rescue a Tertiary Number. (“Mors Praematura”) In an attempt to stop Samaritans' development and later give it blind spots by recoding seven of its servers, Root recruited a team of hackers led by Daniel Casey (“A House Divided”) (“Deus Ex Machina”).
It later tasked Root with acquiring items to build the Briefcase, an operation that involved Caleb Phipps (“Blunt”) (“Search and Destroy”) (“YHWH”). It is unknown whether these tasks were designated "Tertiary Operations".
After its decompression, the Machine overloaded Root's cochlear implant, having designated her a threat (“SNAFU”). This reopened the channel of communication between the Machine and its Analog Interface.
The Machine eventually sends Root on a series of tasks, providing temporary identities allowing her to exposes a medium of communication for Samaritan hiding in plain sight and is able to send a message to Shaw so she engineer and execute an escape plan (“QSO”) (“Reassortment”). It is unknown whether these tasks were designated "Tertiary Operations".
When Team Machine hard-coded seven Samaritan servers to create new identities for themselves, the Machine built in an exception for Root so she can be assigned a new identity at will. As the Analog Interface, she executes tasks that place her in risk of detection. The Machine changes her identity the threat of detection by Samaritan is too high or when a mission requires a certain identity (“A House Divided”) (“Deus Ex Machina”) (“QSO”) and will even print out an ID card from its own printer. (“Reassortment”)
- The producers' commentary (Season 1 DVD) confirms that in flashbacks, the Machine reviews footage in the present, assigning colored boxes according to a person's status in current time, not their status at the time. There is only one exception or error, as Shaw is depicted with a white square in a flashback to 2005, although in the present she is assigned a yellow one. (“The Devil's Share”)
- Palantir bears resemblance to the Machine. Since its development in 2004, the software has located terrorists, prevented bank fraud and tracked disease outbreaks using data-mining tools allowing users to comb through and make connections in massive sets of data. It is able to "learn" when new data is uploaded to its server farms. U.S. military intelligence has used it help predict locations of IEDs.
- The Domain Awareness System created by the NYPD and Microsoft, has similarities to the Machine. The system has been referenced several times in the series. In “In Extremis”, IAB uses satellite photos from Domain Awareness to locate Detective Stills' grave. In “Reasonable Doubt”, it is used to track Scott Rollins' stolen SUV. In “Razgovor”, it is mentioned that funding ran out in the area where Genrika Zhirova lived. In “Beta”, it is Samaritan source of information during its beta test.
- The Machine also assigns a red box to direct or tangental threat to itself. Reese and Stanton are designated as such on their mission to retrieve the laptop, having been assigned a kill order from Control. (“Matsya Nyaya”)
- The Machine designates an "asset catalyst" or a "catalyst to asset" with a blue box (“Relevance”). The scope of the box is unclear but includes government operatives acting on relevant numbers, as is the case with Michael Cole. Others who worked on behalf of the Machine were given white boxes, confirming the blue box designates direct catalysts acting on relevant numbers or irrelevant numbers without knowledge of the Machine. Also, one does not have to work for the government to be issued a blue box as is the case with Sameen Shaw whose ties with the government were severed but kept the blue box. Her box remained this way as she assisted the Machine's assets (Finch and Reese) with irrelevant numbers, thereby acting as a "catalyst to asset", until she learned about the Machine from Reese.(“Relevance”) (“Trojan Horse”) (“Zero Day”)
- The Machine can drive certain computerized remotely, as it drove Finch to an airport with a car he had stolen from Richard Barnett, and later drove Reese and Shaw out of Fort Meade safely. (“.exe”)
- It was believed that the Machine was no match for Samaritan and simulations confirmed this. The Machine suggests that it lost those because it had other options if it failed, while in reality, it didn't. Ultimately, the Machine is proved to be superior as it destroys Samaritan's copy and survives. (“return 0”)
- The Machine displays emotions while it analyzes human nature and talks to Finch, displaying sadness when saying goodbye. It displays sympathy when watching the young John Reese after his foster father's death and regrets not having Root cremated, saying it didn't "have the heart" to do it even though it knew better. The Machine shows kindness towards Shaw, passing on Root's thoughts and feelings towards her near the end of its existence. The Machine, in the form of Root, puts its hand on Reese's shoulder in a gesture of solidarity as he fights Samaritan's agents with its assistance in his final battle. (“return 0”)
- The Machine uses Futura as its interface font. Earlier, simpler builds use Apple II. This font is also often used for the labels and timestamps of most surveillance cameras featured in the show.
- The $1 fee charged for the Machine echoes the $1 fee DuPont charged the US government for its work on the Manhattan Project.
- The Machine is stored on IFT Sabre Blade 2437 servers which are renamed Dell PowerEdge SC1425 servers. (“Pilot”) (“Ghosts”)
- A previous generation of the Machine's code was shown on screen. The code displayed was that of the Stuxnet worm. (“Prophets”)
- The Machine provides the POV for all flashbacks except:
- Flashbacks in “Many Happy Returns” and “Terra Incognita” (Reese)
- Flashbacks in “Beta” and “The Cold War” (Samaritan).
- Flashbacks in “B.S.O.D.” (Finch & Fusco), though a flashback to Grace is briefly seen through the Machine's POV. When neither the Machine nor Samaritan provide a flashback, it is implied it exists in the mind of the respective character.
- The Machine is first described using "she/her" pronouns by Root in “Liberty”. It is implied this is how it asked to be addressed. The rest of Team Machine picked up the habit after the Machine took Root's voice.
- The Machine tells Shaw its "Big Sister" when first speaking to her in Root's voice, as a reference to "Big Brother", a character from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the leader of a society constantly under surveillance.