Cyberpunk sure is implausible sometimes, isn't it?
I'm not talking about Enoch Root in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and Quicksilver or Van Eck phreaking as depicted in the first book. Root is just an enigma, and if he were the Tom Bombadil of the metaseries, I wouldn't care; hot-rodding tech tricks such as observing someone's display from indirect LCD or CRT radiation physically farfetched, but not entirely beyond the realm of possibility given near-future technology.
Rather, I'm talking about one thing I still find implausible about The Matrix: the explanation that humans were being used as a source of available power. Once the permanent cloud cover produced by wide-scale weapons use by humans had plunged the Earth into darkness, and presumably destroyed most ecosystems with photosynthetic plants, it stood to reason that mass extinctions would make most species inaccessible to the machines. But here are my objections, in decreasing order of salience:
- Most everything about the Matrix setup as described takes inordinate energy investment. "Liquefying the dead" takes energy, as does cloning or breeding them instead of using mitosis. More important, the entire premise of the Matrix is that the imprisoning humans have to be kept happy in order to be kept in a state of perpetual unconsciousness. Why not use nonsentient life forms, then? I have a theory about this, which those of you who are julianmayfans or familiar with the hyperion_cantos will recognize...
- Why not use an available organism with a simpler metabolism? Even supposing trees and cows and electric eels were completely gone, including frozen embryos (which is farfetched in and of itself), there would still have to be prokaryotic blood parasites, unicellular eukaryotes such as yeast, etc. Simpler metabolisms are, by and large, more efficient, unless the humans of the Matrix are genetically modified to generate a much more powerful higher electical field. Not only do I not think that is implausible, but as dashamus pointed out, yeast would probably be easier to modify for producing chemical energy. Recycling biomass would be easier, too.
- Why not develop a sustainable model of energy production? The recycling of humans would eventually wind down, over several centuries or millenia. Why not use geothermal energy in the meantime? (Some collection system would be needed, as above, but it probablycould be made worth while.) Build an orbital tether-mounted set of solar collection panels? Develop a terraforming regime to reverse the damage?
Note: I understand the rationale behind willing suspension of disbelief, and that "The Yeastrix" might be technically interesting, but would not make for a good film, lacking as it does the dramatic conflict that the Matrix does. My objection to the human batteries is the sheer lack of necessity as presented in the first film.
Credit where credit is due: This short essay grew out of a discussion with darana and others on 31 Jan 2004.