Oh my goodness I've just learned a thing about The Matrix that causes it to make a lot more sense: In the original script the humans were used as neural network compute clusters by the Machines and as a crucial component of The Matrix itself.

Which is why humans who were aware of the simulation could control aspects of The Matrix - their minds were part of its foundation.

Unfortunately the test audiences had trouble understanding this concept so the studio changed the human role to "batteries".

@polychrome The change always bugged me because humans make terrible power sources, but I have to admit, I _do_ kinda get a kick out of the idea that humans actually make great power sources in reality and that the laws of thermodynamics are simply the Matrix lying to us about how physics works.

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