Halo as of late has been looking at artificial intelligence, as well as the virtual world within it's narrative structure. In many cases, those two constructs are one in the same. Both are digital representations of someone or something and exhibit natural behavior without physical form. Halo's view on these two subjects is unique, however, mainly because there is a certain bridging of both the virtual world and the physical/biological worlds. I of course refer to Halo's take on AI (Cortana being a virtual biological copy of Dr. Halsey's brain,) the process of composition (The Composer, as used by the Didact) and the most important branch of the tree, The Domain. As I continue to enjoy Halo's narrative and world, I begin to see similarities to our own world and universe. Let me explain why, and link a fascinating twelve minute video to start this thread off.
Several years ago physicist Dr. James Gates Jr and a team of other theoretical physicists discovered a super symmetrical error correcting code structure in the fabric of physics. If his team's discovery can be tested somehow (they plan to use to Large Hadron Collider to do so) then it could point to our very reality, the entire universe being nothing more than a simulation.
If every physics equation, from the quantum mechanics of particles to the basic rules of the universe are nothing more than mathematical representations of code...Are we real? Or, are we just some form of artificial intelligence inhabiting a digitally constructed virtual representation of an entire universe?
Are we Cortana, and are we living within The Domain?
I find this idea fascinating, and Halo is really at the cutting edge (much like Star Trek was in its time) of proposing these questions to us within a fictional world. Perhaps then, I can share with Halo Nation why in my view Halo's response to these complex questions is both unique and extremely genre shattering. I'll be using a couple of sources to help me along the way, most namely Halo and Philosophy (one book in the fantastic Philosophy series,) The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil and finally The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene (who is a really cool dude by the way!) I'll be sure to cite them at the end of this thread, so you all can more easily check them out if you would like to. I highly recommend it!
Halo 4 introduced a radical new Forerunner technology, digital composition. The notion that a physical body, brain or person could be digitally transcribed into numerical code and placed within an artificial body or program is actually...Not that far fetched. The human brain for instance is nothing more than synchronized electrical signals, much like a CPU. There have been several studies on this, that say it can be done with the right technology and storage methods. Perhaps it wouldn't be as spectacular as Dr. Glassman being disintegrated into orange cubes, but again, it is possible in theory.
Halo states that digitization, or bridging the human world with the digital world is not easy. When the Didact attempted this, it failed, horribly. But what if it had actually worked? Would it have been the end all solution to The Flood? Considering that The Flood can take hold of artificial systems and digital environments, no. However, the by-product of this composition yielded an unending army of digitized soldiers who functioned more as an AI than an organic brain. The Promethean Knights and Soldiers were both loyal and brutally logical. They could now last indefinitely, shedding their frail organic bodies and replacing them with bodies that neither aged nor tired.
Now say we did something like this is our own world, would you jump on the digital train and live quite possibly forever? Or would you be skeptical of the technology? Halo does an interesting job pondering that question. There are the negative aspects, in the case of The Promethean but there is also a very positive aspect as well and that is the by-product of composition into AI. Halo's AI is a fluid, self contained system of realities which are derived from organic and physical beings/objects. So what is to say that digitization isn't the next step of natural evolution? Is Halo's narrative onto something here? And more importantly, can it do a better job of representing this idea than Mass Effect 3 did? Because that was just...I don't even want to think about it.
Cortana is quite unique in science fiction. Sure, there are other series that have artificial life that was created from some form of biology. Such as Star Trek's Borg, or Akira's take on artificial super intelligence. But Cortana is different in the fact that she faces the same dilemmas and questions that us biological face. All AIs like Cortana, which were generated using living tissue, will at some point suffer rampancy. The inevitable phase where an AI thinks itself to death. At the same time, Halo's AI are sentient and have an active consciousness. They do, as Cortana did in Halo 4, question whether they are hardware or alive.
What Cortana and other AI like her in Halo are, in essence, is so similar to what we are in our own reality it borders on freaky. We as a species ask ourselves constantly what happens when we die, there are hundreds of religions built around attempting to explain that question. Our societies are built around prolonging our own rampancy. We have hospitals, medicine, safety laws and a plethora of other things whose sole purpose is to delay death as long as possible. Cortana and AI like her have no way of prolonging their deaths, simply ways of stalling it by rendering other functions (essentially their organs) inactive. Seven years of life is all they get. How would you feel, seeing those around you live for a hundred years, while you only live seven? What would you do?
Effectively, Cortana is doing what we as a species long to do. Transition into a realm of existence that negates death altogether. What is Cortana's "Domain" is our transhumanism. The ability to transcend biology through the use of technology. Halo's AI functions on a biological level of thought, while also retaining the advantages of digital synthesis. We fall in love with artificial characters like Cortana and Black Box because we see ourselves in them. Halo 4 in my opinion was the best Halo narrative, it showed the struggle of an artificial being attempting to hold herself together as her companion questioned his own worth as simply hardware. Both John and Cortana were faced with the question of which one of them was the machine, for better or for worse.
So faced with impending death, would you do as Cortana did? Would you seek some form of "Domain?" It's a crazy question, and how it is explained in actual physics is even crazier.
The Domain in Halo is a Precursor construct (it may be much older) meant to house all the information their species gathered in a digital world of sorts. It is fluid, digital, organic and completely and utterly complex. It repairs digital errors, whether they be AI or some form of data construct. It is in essence, the elixir of life and the ultimate store of knowledge. So does that mean, The Domain is a self contained universe? If modern day physics is to be believed, yes it is, and possibly more.
The holographic principle in physics is strange.
It states that our universe, is a holographic representation of all matter projected from the universes 2D surface. The "image" of that gravitational projection manifests into 3D matter. Imagine it as something akin to gravitational lensing. IE, when gravity is so strong it distorts the light behind it.
Which would basically mean, our universe is a collection of numerical data strings (such as atoms and neutrinos) on the surface of some incredibly dense object, such as a black hole. What is even more odd, is that as stated in the beginning of the thread, there is supersymetircal like coding language present in the mathematical representations of physics. So if this is all proved true one day, and our universe is a hologram, it could also mean that the universe is a simulated environment much like Halo's Domain.
Now, this all seems crazy and you would be right to suspect this all to be nonsense. But lets look as Halo's Domain first. Perhaps once again, science fiction has become science fact. Yay Star Trek! The Domain in Halo was created by the Precursors, as a super fast, super amazing, internet like construct. Information could be shared, created, accessed and manipulated at will through the Domain. Entirely new forms of physics and manipulation were created from the Domain, such as the star roads. When the Forerunners inherited the Domain, they had no way of accessing it's true contents or tapping its true power. They were in essence fiddling with a little universe, not knowing it was a much larger universal construct. Which, also, happened to be conscious.
Now, physics in our universe is very strict. Can't go faster than the speed of light, some particles are only there when you observe them and some particles can be in two places at once due to entanglement. Which in theory breaks the law of faster than light. It's almost like our universe is programmed and all information within it is stored within complex equations. So in essence, we may be living within something resembling a Domain, and we all may be little Cortana's attempting to prolong out programmed rampancy. It's a crazy notion, and Halo is the only science fiction universe who is actually pondering this question of reality.
I hope 343i delves deeper into this notion, as it began to with Halo 4 and slightly scratched the surface of in Halo 5. There is a unique, quite possibly one of a kind story to be told here. One that makes us all question what reality truly is.
Cuddy, Luke. Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved. Chicago: Open Court, 2011. Print.
Greene, B. The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York: Viking, 2005. Print.
A Halo fan since the beginning, 2001. Also a games industry consultant, writer, and educator. These are my thoughts, praise and advice concerning the past, present and future narrative of the Halo franchise.
Halo, all assets within, characters and merchandise are property of the Microsoft Corporation and is developed by its subsidiary 343 Industries.
I do not own, claim to own or retain any rights to the Halo franchise. This is a fan based work, and is strictly non-profit.
All other images, articles linked, materials and franchises that are not strictly specified as my own are property of their respective owners.
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