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The Machine

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The Machine

POI FB Machine2

NameThe Machine

Also known asNorthern Lights

First AppearancePilot

Latest AppearanceReassortment

Created byHarold Finch
Nathan Ingram

PurposeMass surveillance system


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

Owned byU.S. Government (Former)
IFT (Former)
Harold Finch

LocationIn the subway's super-computer,
In a briefcase
National grid under Thornhill Utilities (Formerly
(previously Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Hanford, WA)

Images (25)

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".

The Machine analyzes feeds from domestic organizations such as the National Security Agency, and foreign agencies 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, including video footage, phone calls (landline, VOIP, mobile), GPS, electronic transactions, e-mail, and social media, it is able to accurately predict violent acts.


Main article: The Machine/History


After September 11, 2001, Congress created the cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security via the Patriot Act giving DHS and its affiliated agencies the right to read email and monitor phone calls. To handle these data, DHS 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 $1.00. (“Super”) The Machine went online on February 24, 2005. (“Wolf and Cub”)


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 some of the numbers to Finch in time. (“Proteus”)

Finch monitors the virus's 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 Alan Fahey, Cal BeecherBill Szymanski‎‎, and Dr. Richard Nelson. Along with the increasing flashes of coded blue screen, the delays suggest that the Machine might be failing. As Zero Day for the virus approaches, The Machine begins to be overwhelmed by a deluge of false data and stops issuing numbers, leading to a sharp increase in successful premeditated homicides within the city.

Glitches Edit

Main article: List of Embedded Codes

The first glitch (“One Percent”)

Over the course of “One Percent”, “Booked Solid”, “Relevance”, “Proteus”, “All In”, “Trojan Horse” and “In Extremis”, the Machine experiences a number of glitches as blue screens constantly interrupt its perspective on video feeds. Eventually, at the end of “In Extremis”, as the virus begins its attack on the Machine, the monitoring boxes begin to dance across the screen and disappear as the picture degrades. Finally, the Machine displays a red coded screen stating that the signal is corrupted, followed by a series of messages, each originally dissolving from western to Greek characters as its primary operations shut down:

Ernest Thornhill

Ernest Thornhill

By “Zero Day”, neither the government nor Finch have received a number for ten days. However, it appears that the Machine is still generating the irrelevant list, as it tries to contact Finch after determining 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 activity reentering memories. 

Debug Mode Edit

The true nature of the virus is to crash the Machine with false data and trigger a "hard reset", after which the Machine reboots and calls a pay phone located in the New York Public Library, seeking admin support. At the very end of 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 given full admin access to the Machine for 24 hours, which Root refers to as "God Mode". By splicing the telephone lines, however, the call can be directed to more than one pay phone at once, allowing whoever answers the second phone to be given access as well. Once the 24 hours are up, their admin access is removed and they have no further communications with the Machine. (“God Mode”) (“Zero Day”)

Thornhill Utilites Edit

When Root, Finch, Reese and Shaw arrive at the nuclear facility in Hanford, Washington, they discover that engineers shipped the Machine away — over the span of 5 weeks, node by node to an unknown location, supposedly on the orders of Special Counsel, who denied giving the orders. Using the source code from the Ordos Laptop on which Decima Technologies built its virus, Finch was able to "set the Machine free," before Root even could, teaching it to protect itself by ordering its own relocation. (“God Mode”)

The Machine didn't move itself into a data farm but hid itself in the New York City power grid. It uses the power grid as a giant brain with the help of boxes installed and maintained by Thornhill Utilities. The boxes allow the Machine's digital signals to travel in the unused space of the copper power wires. (“YHWH”)

The Briefcase Edit

After the Machine is forced to give up its location (“Asylum”), Samaritan floods the grid with energy that drives the Machine across the country to an electrical substation in New York. As a last resort, Finch and Root download the Machine's core heuristics — information just enough to rebuild it — off the power lines and compress it into the RAM in a briefcase using Caleb's algorithm. In this state the Machine is so compressed that it's not able to process information or communicate. (“YHWH”)

After Reese and Finch get back to the Subway with the briefcase, Finch has to improvise a power supply for it because the battery gets damaged when they escape from Samaritan agents. When Finch connects it to a power supply, the Machine goes through the power cable to get to the workstation in order to decompress itself. He knows that the computer on his desk cannot handle the decompression and his attempt to unplug the briefcase leads to an explosion and electrical fire. After regaining consciousness, he realizes the battery is dead and presumes the volatile information is lost. When Root and Reese get back, she theorizes that there could be a residual charge in the lithium-ion backup and that recovery may still be possible.

Soon, the team builds a computing cluster out of the about 300 PlayStation 3 consoles that Reese and Root retrieved from Bela Durchenko and successfully decompress the Machine.(“B.S.O.D.”)

Machine 2.0 Edit

After a failed surveillance test on the PS3 supercomputer, in which the Machine has a problem with facial recognition, Reese and Finch go to steal 64 next-generation GPU blades to improve its processing power. Meanwhile, Root tunnels into the government surveillance feeds using the subway's encrypted system. With this, the Machine can recover all the information that it lost due to Samaritan's attack. When the Machine reboots, it categorizes the team as threats. It takes on a different approach, judging the team on their history and past sins, because after being compressed and decompressed, it lost its grip on time, causing it to believe that "today" was every day; reliving everything negative it had ever seen, including Finch's 42 attempts to kill it in early development (“Prophets”), and Reese's history with the CIA. It could not prioritize them as good people because it had no anchor in time, and rather than reviewing the numbers, it looked for perceived threats due to its instinct for self-preservation (“Super”) even going so far as to send an assassin to kill Reese. (“SNAFU”)

The Machine is also revealed to have lost information due to Samaritan's grid shutdown (“YHWH”), and displays much of the information on people as "REDACTED". Finch, however, figures out a way to fix both, the loss of data, and its perception of him and Root as threats: he shows it a picture of every person the Machine helped them to save, along with a complete description of what they did to help that person, starting with Megan Tillman, and ending with Grace's rescue from the hands of Greer (“Beta”), which not only serves as the Machine's anchor from which to perceive time, but it reminds the Machine of the good Finch, Reese, Root, Shaw and Fusco do and have done, re-designating Finch as "Admin", Reese as "Primary Asset" and Root as "Analog Interface", as well as restoring its own memory. (“SNAFU”) With the Machine fully functional again, Reese refers to it as "Machine 2.0". (“Truth Be Told”)

Classification of DataEdit

The Machine sorts through all available information and categorizes persons of interest into relevant (national security risk) and irrelevant (ordinary risk) cases. When a relevant threat has been identified, the information is forwarded to the NSA or the FBI (“Pilot”), without leaving any indication as to where the information originated (“No Good Deed”), or sends it directly to Research.(“Relevance”)(“God Mode”)

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


The location of the Machine has changed several times. After it was handed over to the government, it was shipped from Des Moines, Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah, then to its final location further west. (“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 located. (“Pilot”) (“No Good Deed”) (“The Contingency”) However, after speaking with Northern Lights engineer Lawrence Szilard, he admits he can lead Root to where it is located. (“God Mode”) Ingram, who was looking for the Machine at one time, was able to pinpoint three likely locations, each of them U.S. nuclear processing facilities, that Northern Lights could potentially use to house The Machine. Other clues allow Root, Finch, Reese and Shaw to single out a nuclear facility in Hanford, Washington.

According to Finch, the Machine has been coded so that it cannot be altered in any way unless an individual has 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”) The Machine was programmed to delete its memory every night at midnight, and then reinstantiate and rebuild itself, 1.618 seconds (the Golden Ratio/phi) later. (“Zero Day”) 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. With the virus slowly infecting it, the Machine also had Ernest Thornhill buy pay phone companies all over New York City. (“Zero Day”)

In 2006, when the decision was made to erase the Machine's memories and irrelevant data nightly, Harold slightly struggled with the idea, but Nathan Ingram thought it to be cruel, stating "memories make us who we are". As Harold gave it more thought he 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 temporarily regretted the decision immediately after he made it, he continually made the argument that it was for the best, until the Machine deemed Nathan's murder irrelevant, causing him to act on the Contingency function Nathan created. Before rebooting the Machine's core heuristics after its compression in 2015, he swore not to make the same mistake again. (“God Mode”)(“B.S.O.D.”)

The Machine contacts Finch or Reese when it perceives a threat it regards as imminent and categorizes as irrelevant. It is unclear to what extent the Machine is self-aware or 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 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, 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 the Machine is consequently processing the request. The Machine responds via pay phones or mobile phones.

The machine is presently located in the subway car in the underground subway base that the team has been using; its GPU blades (which Finch refers to as its "nervous system") are installed outside of the subway car, hooked in through Finch's second set of comupters and directly linked to its core heuristics contained in the super-computer made from 300 networked PlayStation 3's.(“B.S.O.D.”)(“SNAFU”) It is currently being used as an "Open System" Allowing assets to interact with the machine in never before seen ways, as well as archiving the irrelevant numbers rather than deleting them nightly.(“SNAFU”)(“ShotSeeker”)


Main article: The Machine/Assessment

The Machine uses various "machine learning" techniques to determine the identity, location, and intentions of monitored people.

In “No Good Deed”, the Machine initiate the following subsets on booting up:



POI 0122 System Startup


After that, it initiates infiltrating all the databases to which it has access.


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


Finch initially programmed the Machine with the ability to create simulations of different scenarios to determine which choices it should make. This would allow it to better fulfill its purpose. Finch later taught it to how to play chess and the importance of making good decisions.(“If-Then-Else”)

How it WorksEdit

Since the Machine is a highly complex system with very high computing power, the amount of calculations and simulations it can make is incomparable to a human. The Machine has been shown to create and process through highly-detailed, highly-accurate simulations in mere fractions of a second. When the Machine analyzes its options, the simulations are displayed on what looks like a decision tree), with the results of each option being very different from each other.


Only two episodes display the Machine using its simulation feature: most of it appears in the episode If-Then-Else, then briefly again at the end of Asylum. In the aformentioned episode Finch, Root, Fusco, and Reese and assigned by the Machine to prevent Samaritan from collapsing the US economy at the Stock Exchange. When the team comes under attack from Samaritan, the Machine realizes that it has a very small limited time and very few viable options to rescue them and also complete their mission. The Machine then (in real time) begins analyzing its options, the best of which are then simulated. When the Machine finishes a simulation with an undesired outcome it discards it then cycles back to the present, in real time and may choose another simulation.


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

Primary OperationsEdit

The Machine inserts relevant information (by way of a subject's Social Security number) into briefing reports destined for FBI or NSA officials. While most believe the information to be the work of various intelligence agencies, some are aware that the numbers are gathered by special means, referring to this entity as "Research".

After Vigilance leaked documents regarding Northern Lights, the governmental agencies involved have severed their link with the machine, believing to have shut it down, and have ceased operations which act on relevant numbers. These operations have been re-assigned to the Analog Interface (Root). (“Most Likely To...”)

Contingency (Secondary Operations)Edit

POI 0222 S9

The "Contingency" routine is an additional function added by Nathan Ingram just before the Machine was shut down and packed for transport in 2009. (“No Good Deed”) Initially unknown to Finch, Ingram created this function to gain access to those numbers that were sorted out as non-relevant. Shortly after the Machine left IFT, the Machine sent the first irrelevant number to Ingram. (“One Percent”)

POI 0221 numbers2

Ingram's Phone

Finch found out about Contingency in 2010 (Day 3178, or September 13). When confronted by Finch, Ingram admitted that he received numbers from the Machine, allowing him to save five of the twelve reported up to that point. Finch insisted that they should not play God and tried to delete Contingency. However, this wasn't possible, so Finch deleted Ingram's status as an auxiliary administrator and halted Contingency's processes. (“God Mode”) Finch reactivated Contingency the night after Ingram's death (Day 3191, or September 26), having observed that the Machine had classified Ingram's murder as "non-relevant". Finch reprogrammed the Contingency function so that instead of issuing the POI's social security number directly, the number was coded to the Dewey Decimal System utilizing books found in The Library and communicated via public pay phones.  

The "Irrelevant" ListEdit

The Machine uses a code based on the Dewey Decimal System to communicate the Social Security numbers of non-relevant persons of interest to Finch by phone (call or text message). (“The Contingency”) He receives coded titles and authors' initials of books that are cataloged by the DDS. (“No Good Deed”) Combining their DDS numbers allows him to put together the SSN.

Tertiary OperationsEdit

After its hard reset in the late night of April 30 (Day 4138), the Machine created a third category of numbers for what it terms Tertiary Operations (“Root Path (/)”). The Machine has only directly told Root about these people, and only see has been involved in executing tertiary operations for the Machine. Root's kidnap and temporary use of Shaw to rescue one of them enabled Finch and Reese to learn of this new category. (“Mors Praematura”) The people Root saved ended up being a team of hackers brought together and led by former number Daniel Casey to give Samaritan seven key blind spots, almost entirely recoding seven of its servers.(“A House Divided”)(“Deus Ex Machina”) Since then, the Machine has assigned Root to a series of tasks in order to acquire the materials and build the case which would eventually contain the Machine's core heuristics; one of those tasks included former number Caleb Phipps. (“Blunt”)(“Search and Destroy”)(“YHWH”) It is unknown whether or not these tasks were designated and classified specifically as "Tertiary Operations" by the Machine, however it is heavily implied.

Two months after the Machine had been rebooted following its compression/attack by Samaritan, it overloaded Root's cochlear implant during a brief period of time when a glitch in its perception of time, itself, caused it to see Harold, Root and John as threats. (“SNAFU”) This once again opened the channel of communication between the Machine and its "Analog Interface", Root. The Machine eventually sends Root on a series of tasks, providing her with whimsically evasive temporary identities; these tasks prove extremely useful, leading her to a radio station which exposes a specific medium of communication for Samaritan, hiding in plain sight. This is exposed to Root, Reese and Finch, but more in-depth to Root, as she is able to use it to send a message to Shaw, allowing her to engineer and execute an escape plan which proves successful. (“QSO”)(“Reassortment”) It is also unknown whether or not these tasks were designated and classified specifically as "Tertiary Operations" by the Machine, however it was heavily implied.

POI 317 Tertiary Operations

(“Root Path (/)”)


  • 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. Although it should be noted that in a flashback from God Mode, Hersh is depicted with a white square indicating that he hadn't yet known about the Machine; yet, in the present he is depicted with a yellow square, presumably indicating that he found out about the Machine sometime between 2010 and 2013; however, that is not the case. Hersh does not find out about the Machine's existence until the end of the episode, after he kills Special Counsel. The flashbacks which designate him a white box are seen before Hersh finds out about the Machine, therefore the commentary by the producers still holds true. (“God Mode”) (“Lethe”) There is only one exception (or error) regarding this statement: In The Devil's Share, which contains multiple flashbacks of all main characters except Root, this holds true for Reese, as his flashback from 2008 depicts him with a yellow square, indicating that the Machine still categorizes those in flashbacks according to their present-day relationship to the Machine, however, in Shaw's flashback to 2005, she is depicted with a white square, which makes perfect sense for the mythology of the show, since at that time, she was being stripped of her medical license, had not yet joined the Marines, therefore had not yet come to work for the ISA and become an asset catalyst for the Machine, nor had she known about the Machine. This is however, the only instance which is in direct conflict with the producers' statement that the Machine reviews flashbacks in the present, because at that point, Shaw had known about the Machine for several months.(“God Mode”)(“The Devil's Share”)
  • Palantir, a CIA-funded enterprise software company whose name comes from the seeing stones in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings bears an eerie resemblance to the Machine. Since its development in 2004, the software has been able to locate terrorists, prevent bank fraud and track disease outbreaks using data-mining tools that allow users to comb through and make connections in massive sets of widely disparate data. Palantir is able to "learn" when new data is uploaded to its huge server farms. U.S. military intelligence has used Palantir to improve their ability to predict locations of Improvised Explosive Devices in Afghanistan. Palantir has been valued at between $5 to $8 billion.
  • The Domain Awareness System created by the NYPD in conjunction with Microsoft at a cost of $40 million has some similarities to the Machine. The Domain Awareness System was profiled in an episode of Nova about the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers. The system has been referenced several times in the series: in “In Extremis”, IAB uses satellite photos from Domain Awareness to identify possible gravesites where Detective Stills might be buried; in “Reasonable Doubt”, it is used to track Scott Rollins' stolen SUV; in “Razgovor”, it is mentioned that funding ran out for the project in the run-down area where Genrika Zhirova lived; and in “Beta”, it is the source of information that Samaritan uses during its beta test.
POI 0120 MPOV Reese Stanton Red Square
  • The Machine will assign a red box to anyone associated or directly involved with malicious software which could pose a threat to the Machine. Reese and Stanton are designated red boxes while they are on their mission to retrieve the laptop, having been secretly assigned a kill order from Control. This can be seen from a surveillance camera outside the facility containing the laptop, time-stamped 11:27:08.(“Matsya Nyaya”)
  • In Relevance, the Machine classifies those with blue boxes as an "asset catalyst" or "catalyst to asset", most likely to express the fact that the individual is working on behalf of the Machine. (“Relevance”) However, it's apparent that the blue box does not apply solely to government operatives. Sameen Shaw was designated a blue box even after Control and Special Counsel ordered her execution (“Relevance”). Her ties to the government were severed, but her box remained blue until John told her about the Machine (“Relevance”)(“Trojan Horse”)(“Zero Day”)(“God Mode”). The Machine still designated Shaw a blue box, since she was working with/for Reese and Finch - on behalf of the Machine's primary asset and its Admin - and continuing to act as an asset catalyst, assisting them in their operations.(“Trojan Horse”)(“Zero Day”)(“God Mode”) The entire scope of this box is unclear, but it definitely includes agents acting on "relevant" numbers, since that was the primary responsibility of the only other person ever known to be designated a blue box, Shaw's former partner, Michael Cole. (“Relevance”) There are others who've worked on behalf of the machine without knowing its existence and they're designated white boxes, which further confirms that the blue box was intended for direct catalysts to one of the Machine's assets, those whose job it is to act on relevant numbers - or, in Shaw's case, assist with the irrelevant numbers - without knowing about the Machine.


  • The Machine uses Futura as its interface font. For earlier, simpler builds Apple II is being used. This font is also often used for the labels and timestamps of most of the surveillance cameras featured in the show.[1]
  • 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.
  • The $1 fee charged for creating the Machine echoes the $1 fee DuPont charged the US government for the company's work on the Manhattan Project.
  • In “Relevance”, the Machine is referred to as "Research" by Sameen 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 Machine is stored on IFT Sabre Blade 2437 servers which are renamed Dell PowerEdge SC1425 servers. (“Pilot”) (“Ghosts”)
  • During “Prophets”, a previous generation of The Machines source code was shown on screen. The source code displayed was that of the Stuxnet worm. Also, out of 43 versions of the Machine, only one learned how to care. The rest either tried to escape to the real world, kill Harold, or kill the other versions.
  • The Machine so far provides the point of view for all of the flashbacks appeared in the show, except for a flashback in “Many Happy Returns” and “Terra Incognita” (by Reese) and the flashbacks in “Beta” and “The Cold War” (both by Samaritan). The only other exception is throughout the episode B.S.O.D., the flashbacks to 2006 of Finch with Nathan Ingram and Finch with Grace are shown from the perspective of neither the Machine nor Samaritan; therefore it can be assumed that they are from the perspective of Harold's mind, although during his flashback with Grace, they are briefly seen from the Machine's POV.(“B.S.O.D.”) There are also several mental flashbacks to YHWH by Fusco and Finch, and a brief flashback to God Mode by Finch right before he boards the Manhattan-bound Ferry with Reese; it is implied that these brief flashbacks are from the perspective of the minds of their respective characters.(“B.S.O.D.”)
  • 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 but this is unconfirmed. Up to this point the Machine had only been directly referred to as "it".

External LinksEdit


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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