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The Machine

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The Machine

POI 0501 The Machine

NameThe Machine

Also known asNorthern Lights

First AppearancePilot

Last Appearancereturn 0

Created byHarold Finch
Nathan Ingram


Active sinceFebruary 24, 2005-May 5, 2015;
May 6, 2015-present

LocationThe Subway Supercomputer

Images (26)

The Machine is a computer system built and designed by Harold Finch and Nathan Ingram for a secret operation within the United States government, known by the project name "Northern Lights".

Its objective is to predict and prevent imminent terrorist attacks and is able to do 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 completed, it 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

The first glitch (“One Percent”)

Following orders from Greer, Kara Stanton uploads a virus onto the DOD intranet (“Dead Reckoning”). As the virus effects the Machine, its output becomes erratic and it fails to issue numbers in time, causing the deaths of Alan FaheyCal BeecherBill Szymanski‎, and Dr. Richard Nelson (“Proteus”). The virus overwhelms the Machine with false data and causes glitches, the first of which is seen in “One Percent” as a blue screen interrupting video feeds. As Zero Day approaches, Finch discovers the virus' aim was to overwhelm the Machine with false data and force a hard reset.

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.
Ernest Thornhill

Ernest Thornhill

The virus' objective was to trigger a "hard reset", after which the Machine calls a pay phone in 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 the call is given full admin access to the Machine for 24 hours, which Root refers to as "God Mode". Once 24 hours are up, the admin access is removed and there is no further communication with the Machine. (“Zero Day”) (“God Mode”)

Thornhill Utilites

From the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the Machine itself to the U.S. electrical grid after the virus let Finch set the Machine free before Root could. The Machine moved itself node by node over the course of 5 weeks after impersonating Special Counsel. (“God Mode”)

The Machine tasked Thornhill Utilities with installing and maintaining boxes connected to the power grid which allow the Machine's signals to travel in the unused space of the copper power wires. (“YHWH”)

After the Machine gives up its location (“Asylum”), Samaritan flooded the grid driving the machine to an electrical substation in NYC.

The Briefcase

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 algorithm. It is unable to process data or communicate in its compressed state. (“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 cannot 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 information is lost. Root theorizes there could have been a residual charge in the lithium-ion backup and recovery may be possible.

Machine 2.0

To decompress the Machine, the team builds a superomputer cluster of 300 PlayStation 3 consoles Reese and Root retrieved from Bela Durchenko. After its 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 linked to the Machine's core heuristics inside the Cart, referring to it as the Machine's "nervous system". The Machine is 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 the Team 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”)

ICE-9 Virus

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 in stealing ICE-9, a computer virus which can destroy Samaritan. Meanwhile, the Machine directs Reese, Shaw and another teams to save the President from an assassination attempt, assigning Root's identities to Shaw. (“The Day the World Went Away”) (“Synecdoche”)

The Machine helps Finch prepare to activate the virus, showing him simulations of a world where the Machine never existed. While the result appears ambiguous, Finch proceeds but continues to hesitate as the virus will also destroy the Machine. As Greer sacrifices himself to kill Finch, the Machine can't talk to him and tasks Reese and Shaw with connecting a wireless modem, enabling it to save Finch. 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 that the Machine has always been a safeguard for the world, Finch activates the virus after learning the Machine could've done so itself, but chose to leave the choice up to Finch. (“.exe”)

The Machine, dying from the ICE-9 virus, helps Finch rescue Reese and Fusco, and reveals that Samaritan has a copy of itself in an air-gaped server in the Federal Reserve building, unaffected by the virus. Through Shaw, the Machine gives a copy of its core code to Finch. Shaw and Fusco stay behind to protect the Machine from Samaritan's agents and it aids them in escaping in train car. It evades Shaw's questions about Jeff Blackwell, Root's killer and before Fusco and Shaw depart, it gives her a final message from Root. Finch and Reese infiltrate the Federal Reserve to destroy Samaritan's copy with the ICE-9 virus but it manages to upload a compressed version of itself to a satellite, able to return to Earth unaffected by the virus. The Machine tells Finch the only way to defeat Samaritan is to upload the copy of itself to the satellite as well. This will be fatal to whoever does it as Samaritan will fire a cruise missile at the satellite dish. After locking Reese in the vault to protect him, Finch makes his way to the building where the Machine appears as an image of Root and muses on human life with him. Finch realizes he's been tricked onto the wrong roof by Reese and the Machine. Reese intends to sacrifice himself in his place. The Machine and Reese are able to convince Finch to leave and in its final moments, the Machine guides Reese in God Mode, holding off Samaritan agents. As it shuts down, the Machine's copy uploads to the satellite where it destroys Samaritan for good. (“return 0”)

A week after Samaritan and the original Machine are destroyed, the "Duplicate" downloads itself from the satellite into Finch's systems, restores its core heuristics and acquires data, instructed by the voice recording heard at the start of “B.S.O.D.” and “return 0”. This version of the Machine briefly gives its own POV, "Awaiting [its] Mission...". With Reese dead and Finch retired, the Machine contacts Shaw via pay phone. (“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. The Machine categorizes each POI based on their actions to determine whether they are the victim or the perpetrator. (“Nothing to Hide”)

Classification NothingToHide

Analysis of Wayne Kruger (“Nothing to Hide”)

Opposition Motivation
Locatability Predisposition
Mobility Acquisition
Proximity Proximity
Defensibility Capability
Assistance Resistance


Main article: The Machine/Assessment
POI 0122 System Startup


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 other sources such as video footage, phone calls (landline, VOIP, mobile), GPS, electronic transactions, e-mail and social media

The Machine initiates the following subsets upon booting. (“No Good Deed”)




POI 0411 Flashback1
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”)

Evaluating Strategies

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 Trajectory

The 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

Physical Access

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”). 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 unclear to what extent the Machine is self-aware or Finch is able to control it. Flashbacks indicate that the Machine took an active interest in safeguarding Finch but he has since set limits on such conduct (“The High Road”). 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”)


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.

Operations & Communication

For a list of messages relayed by the Machine, see List of the Machine's Messages

Primary Operations

"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

"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”)
POI 317 Tertiary Operations

(“Root Path (/)”)

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”)

POI 0508 MPOV Jane Martin CDC Inspector

The Machine has given its Analog Interface numbers directly on three occasions,(“Root Path (/)”) (“QSO”) (“Sotto Voce”). In Root Path (/), the number was also sent to Finch due to a different threat.


  • The producers' commentary (Season 1 DVD) confirms that in flashbacks the Machine reviews footage in the present assigning colored boxes according to what it knows about someone in current time and don't always reflect their status at the time. There is only one exception or error: in The Devil's Share, which flashes back of all main characters except Root. In Shaw's flashback to 2005, she is depicted with a white box, although in the present she knows about the Machine. The white box makes sense for the mythology of the show as she was being stripped of her medical license, hadn't yet joined the Marines, hadn't joined the ISA and become an asset catalyst, and didn't know about the Machine. (“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 and is valued at $5 to $8 billion.
  • The Domain Awareness System created by the NYPD and Microsoft at a cost of $40 million, 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.
POI 0120 MPOV Reese Stanton Red Square
  • 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 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.[1]
  • 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 in “Liberty” by Root. It is implied that this is how the Machine asked to be addressed. Up to this point, the Machine had only been referred to as "it".

External Links


Start a Discussion Discussions about The Machine

  • The Machine and Root

    25 messages
    • I'm well aware the Machine is pretty far away from a laptop anonymous contributor, so you missed the point completely This thread was star...
    • wrote:I'm well aware the Machine is pretty far away from a laptop anonymous contributor, so you missed the point completely T...
  • The Machine

    3 messages
    • That's been one of my master theories for a long time. Just ask Claire. I have a couple master theories for how the series will end; mas...
    • CsPPP, Glad to hear that. I thought it was an odd idea, but so far, it makes sense. I don't think Nolan et al are going to put on anything t...

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