The Machine analyzes feeds from domestic organizations such as the National Security Administration, and foreign entities including Interpol ("No Good Deed") to predict terrorist attacks and modify intelligence reports to include "relevant" data that will allow the government to forestall terrorist activity. Combined with data collected from various other sources, such as video footage, phone calls (landline, VOIP, mobile), GPS, electronic transactions, e-mails and other social media it is able to accurately predict violent acts without anyone knowing about its existence.
- Main article: The Machine/History
After 9/11, Congress created the cabinet-level U.S. Department of Homeland Security via the Partriot Act giving DHS and its affiliated agencies the right to read emails and monitor phone calls. To handle the data, they needed a computer system that could scan through all the information and identify terrorists before they could act. After trials with projects like Trailblazer, TIA, and Stellar Wind were unsuccessful, the Machine was commissioned. ("No Good Deed") Development was handed over to Nathan Ingram's company IFT . When the Machine was completed, Ingram sold it to the government for $1. ("Super") The Machine went online on February 24, 2005. ("Wolf and Cub")
Classification of DataEdit
The Machine sorts through all available information and categorizes persons of interest into relevant (terrorism) and irrelevant (everything else) cases. When a relevant threat has been identified, the information will be forwarded to the NSA or the FBI ("Pilot"), without leaving any indication where the information originated. ("No Good Deed")
Every night at midnight, the Machine erases the list of irrelevant cases, for example violent crimes, domestic violence or other premeditated acts that do not threaten national security. Finch later realizes that the irrelevant list includes people about to be involved in bad situations, which he later comes to believe was just as important as the "relevant" list. Finch therefore utilizes the back door to the Machine (put in place by Nathan Ingram) in order to access the irrelevant list.
The location of the Machine remains unknown. After it was handed over to the government, it was shipped from Des Moines, Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah, and onward. ("Bad Code") Finch stated on several occasions that he has no way of accessing the Machine, and that he also doesn’t know where it is stored. ("Pilot") ("No Good Deed") ("The Contingency") However, after speaking with Northern Lights engineer Lawrence Szilard in God Mode, he says he can lead Root to where it is located.
Nathan Ingram, who was looking for the Machine, was able to pinpoint three likely locations (all of them U.S. nuclear processing facilities) that Northern Lights used to house The Machine. Other clues allowed Root, Finch, Reese and Shaw to single out a nuclear facility in Washington state. Upon their arrival, it was discovered that engineers had shipped it away—node by node—to parts unknown, supposedly on the orders of the Special Counsel, who denied giving the orders. ("God Mode") Anticipating threats to the Machine, Finch somehow enabled it to hide itself by ordering its own relocation. It remains to be seen whether the Machine's component nodes are stored in one place or distributed.
According to Finch, the Machine has been coded so that it cannot be accessed in any way. It is able to update, maintain, and repair itself. ("No Good Deed") The Machine was designed to delete its memory every night at midnight, then restart and rebuild itself. Because of this, it has no stored memory other than its basic programming and only has a database to process. To work around this problem, the Machine established the false human identity Ernest Thornhill, a technology millionaire. Using this identity, it set up a company and hired employees to reenter the coded memories it prints out each night. It also had Ernest Thornhill buy pay phone companies all over New York City. ("Zero Day")
The Machine contacts Finch when it perceives a threat regarded as "irrelevant" yet imminent. It is yet unclear to what extent the Machine is self-aware or sentient and how far Finch is able to control it. Flashbacks indicate that the Machine once took an active interest in safeguarding Finch, but he has since set limits on such conduct. ("The High Road") Finch himself is adamant that the Machine have no form of remote access, as it could be used by a hacker to gain control. ("The Contingency")
Under certain circumstances, the system administrator (Finch) or a recognized asset (Reese) can communicate with the Machine by talking into any security or traffic camera. ("Firewall"), ("The Contingency") The cameras flash a red light to indicate that it is recording, and that the Machine is consequently processing the request. The Machine responds via pay phones or mobile phones.
- Main article: The Machine/Assessment
The Machine uses various "machine Learning" techniques to determine the identity, location, and intentions of monitored people.
The "relevant" listEdit
The Machine inserts "relevant" information (by way of a subject's Social Security Number) into briefing reports destined for FBI or NSA executives. While most believe the information to be the work of various intelligence agencies, some are aware that the numbers are gathered by special means, often referring to this entity as "Research".
The "Contingency" routine is an additional function added by Nathan Ingram just before the Machine was shut down and packed for transport. ("No Good Deed") Unknown to Finch, Ingram apparently created this function to gain access to those numbers that were sorted out as non-relevant. Shortly after the Machine left IFT, Contingency sent the first irrelevant number to Ingram. ("One Percent")
Finch found out about Contingency in 2010 (Day 3178). When confronted by Finch, Ingram admitted that he received numbers from the Machine, allowing him to save five of the twelve reported. Finch insisted that they should not play God and tried to delete Contingency. However, this wasn't possible, so Finch removed Ingram's access to Contingency and halted its processes. ("God Mode") Finch reactivated Contingency some time after Ingram's death, having observed that the Machine had classified his murder "non-relevant".
Ingram believed that the Machine wanted him to know of—and act on—the irrelevant list.
The "irrelevant" listEdit
By way of Contingency, the Machine uses a code based on the Dewey Decimal System to communicate "non-relevant" persons of interest to Finch by phone (call or text message). ("The Contingency") He receives coded titles and authors of books that are cataloged by the DDS. ("No Good Deed") Combining their DDS numbers allows him to put together the SSN.
Following orders from a mysterious third party, Kara Stanton uploads a virus onto the Internet ("Dead Reckoning") which initially seems to affect the Machine in such a way that it fails to send new numbers to Finch in time. ("Proteus")
Finch monitors the progress over time, as he tries to trace it. Eventually, it becomes apparent the Machine's output is becoming erratic, and in time, that numbers are being delayed. The delayed generation of numbers leads to the deaths of Cal Beecher, Bill Szymanski, and Dr. Richard Nelson. Along with the increasing flashes of coded blue screen, the delays suggest that the Machine may be failing. As Zero Day for the virus approaches, The Machine stops issuing numbers, leading to a sharp increase in successful premeditated homicides within the city.
- Main article: List of embedded codes
Over the course of In Extremis, the machine experiences a number of glitches as blue screens constantly interrupt its perspective on video feeds. As they break down, the monitoring boxes begin to dance across the screen and disappear as the picture degrades. Finally, the Machine displays a a red coded screen stating that signal is corrupted, followed by a series of messages, each originally dissolving from western to Greek characters:
MAJOR ERRORS ENCOUNTERED:
Feed analysis suspended
Threat detection suspended
Data corruption: 86.914%
As the red screen begins to fade away, it displays:
Finally, the text, then screen go red as it displays:
Threat to system
Threat to system
Threat to system
Primary operations shutting down
At the end of the episode, the Machine's primary functions have shut down. In the following episode ("Zero Day"), it is revealed that neither the government nor Finch have received any number for 10 days. However, it appears that the Machine is still generating the irrelevant list, as it tries to contact Finch after finding out that Carter may be in danger. The Machine also sends Finch the Social Security number of its fake human identity, Ernest Thornhill, thus revealing its daily activities to reenter memories.
Debug Mode Edit
The true nature of the virus is to crush the Machine with false data and trigger a "hard reset", after which the Machine calls a payphone located in the New York Public Library, seeking admin support. During the reboot process, The Machine displays binary machine language code that translates to Latin "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" or "Who will watch the watchmen?"
The person who answers The Machine's call is expected to have full admin access to the Machine for 24 hours, which Root refers to as "God Mode". After Finch makes sure Reese and Root both get the call, The Machine immediately gives instruction to both Reese and Root to avoid agents waiting in the library. Once the 24 hours are up, their admin access is removed and they have no further communications with the Machine. ("God Mode") ("Zero Day")
People who know about the MachineEdit
By the time of its creation officially seven people knew about the Machine. Except for Ingram, no one else knew of Finch also being involved, therefore, eight people were aware of its existence. ("No Good Deed")
Others came to know about the Machine later:
- John Reese (learned about the Machine when be began working with Finch.) ("Pilot")
- Root (learned about the Machine at an indeterminant point in time, and has made it her mission to "set it free".) ("Firewall") ("The Contingency")
- Henry Peck (realized the Machine had been built, later confirmed by Finch.) ("No Good Deed")
- Samantha Shaw (learned about the Machine from Reese and discusses it with him after the reset) ("God Mode")
- Hersh (first assigned a yellow box in "God Mode", but may have known about the Machine earlier)
In the episode "God Mode" Hersh reports to an unidentified woman regarding his activities following Root's attempt to find the Machine. The Machine assigns her a yellow box, indicating she knows about the Machine, but how much she knows and for how long is not known.
In addition, Daniel Aquino, who built the housing for the Machine, had some knowledge of it, however, it is not known whether he was one of the original eight, or if he was told about the Machine some time later. ("Relevance")
Colored boxes and symbols Edit
The Machine applies different colored boxes in order to categorize the people it observes. Boxes can change as the Machine re-evaluates its assessment of the individuals it monitors.
|White box: Individuals the Machine is currently monitoring, but who do not pose an immediate threat.|
|White box with red corners: Indicates the Machine's prediction of imminent violence by an individual.|
|Red box: Assigned to a perceived threat to the system.|
|Yellow box: Individuals who know about the Machine.|
|Blue box: Members of the government team; the scope of this box is not yet clear, but includes agents acting on "relevant" numbers.|
Watercraft and aircraftEdit
The Machine also categorizes and marks watercraft and aircraft.
|Boats, ships and ferries are assigned a white diamond.|
|Airplanes and helicopters receive a green triangle along with flight number and airport codes.|
Wheeled vehicles (such as cars, trucks and buses) are coded based on status of individual passengers within. The Machine can also recognize celestial objects such as Mars, ("God Mode") and presumably constellations as well, judging from official art.
The Machine monitors areas around potential terrorist targets, such as sky lanes, shipping lanes, and major railroads. ("Dead Reckoning") Exclusion zones are coded in white or red, which may represent a threat appraisal, or the value of the target.
- The extent of Nathan Ingram's contingency protocol inside the Machine is unknown. During Finch's absence ("The Contingency") the Machine tasked Reese with the job of searching and protecting the numbers that came up, thus implying that Reese or any immediate asset are part of that contingency.
- In "Relevance", the Machine is referred to as "Research" by Samantha Shaw and Michael Cole, as it provides them the SSNs from the relevant list. However, in the first encounter between Shaw and Finch, she is informed by Finch that "Research" is non-existent but full of secrecy, but that ultimately they both work for the same entity.
- The producers' commentary on the Season 1 DVD confirms that in flashbacks, the Machine reviews old footage in the present, meaning that it assigns the colored squares according to what it knows about the characters in the current timeline. Therefore, the yellow square it assigned Reese in various flashbacks before Finch told him about the Machine may only indicate that the Machine uses a present day indicator, not that Reese knew about the Machine before meeting Finch.