The Forerunners, within Halo, were an almost mythical race of hyper-intelligent beings. From their construction of sentient artificial intelligence, the masterful application of quantum particle research, or an affinity for astro- engineering on a grand scale, The Forerunners ruled the Halo-verse with superior technology at their fingertips. Halo:CE-Halo 3 was the golden era of Forerunner supremacy in terms of their interaction with the greater lore of Halo. Mysterious, unfathomably intelligent, and most importantly kept within the id of the franchise. Those dark depths which many a Halo fan became lost within for almost eight years.
When Halo 4 came along, fans knew the curtain would be lifted on The Forerunners. A good portion of the fandom did, and continues to look back fondly on Halo 4's narrative and depiction of The Forerunners. In some regards, I agree that Halo 4's characterization and overall arc were splendidly written and designed. John-117 and Cortana were fleshed out in a meaningful and complex way, while the stakes were raised without sacrificing continuity of canon. That is where my praise ends, however, and where I gaze onto the franchise in a more critical light. For technological supremacy is only as useful as that of tactical supremacy. The method in which one takes catalog of the tools at their disposal, and utilizes them in an intelligent method.
The Forerunners's post Halo 3 are arrogant, genocidal, and above all else incompetent. For all their technology and sway over an entire galaxy, they could not utilize that supremacy in order to negate the factors which endangered their entire civilization. Factors, which would eventually see their entire society commit mass and unnecessary suicide against the galaxies biological life. So now, let us take an unbiased and intricate look at why The Forerunners under 343 Industries are not the beings you want ruling, quite frankly, anything.
"Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven." - Edward de Bono
It's difficult to tackle an entire species faults, especially The Forerunners, without first taking a look at what is known as the Kardashev Scale. In short, the scale was created by then Soviet Astronomer Nikolai Kadashev in order to measure the apparent and theoretical technological advancement of a given species. Officially, the scale dictates that...
The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization's level of technological advancement, based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to use for communication. The scale has three designated categories:
A Type I civilization—also called planetary civilization—can use and store energy which reaches its planet from the neighboring star.
A Type II civilization can harness the total energy of its planet's parent star (the most popular hypothetical concept being the Dyson sphere—a device which would encompass the entire star and transfer its energy to the planet(s)).
A Type III civilization can control energy on the scale of its entire host galaxy.
The scale is hypothetical, and regards energy consumption on a cosmic scale. It was proposed in 1964 by the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. Various extensions of the scale have since been proposed, including a wider range of power levels (types 0, IV and V) and the use of metrics other than pure power. 
So knowing that, we can clearly see that The Forerunners are no less than a III civilization. The scale now goes up to IV and even V in some cases, but for the sake of simplicity we will utilize the older scale system. Now, a type III civilization has the ability to alter its own galaxy for its own needs and benefits. The Forerunners certainly accomplished as much with their dyson constructs, Halo rings (I'll get to those later,) and genetic manipulation. While the scale gives us a good representation of technology, it does not factor in intelligence, nor cultural norms of said civilization/species. And oh brother, The Forerunner were severely lacking in both.
I'm going to tackle The Forerunners in terms of three different segments here. One will be focused on culture and hegemony, the second will be strategy and logistics, and the third will be on technology. For those Forerunner diehards in the fandom, you may want to skip this article, as the picture I'm going to be painting is, shall we say, less than flattering. In terms of science fiction, and down right realistic expectations, The Forerunners verge on the incompetent at best, and complete idiocy at worst. So, with the primer out of the way, I'll get down to the nitty gritty of it.
Forerunner culture is hard to compare in a contemporary and realistic sense, because their notion of hegemony and unification went far beyond simple integration or nation-state subjects. It was more or less, a quashing of any species they deemed "inferior" or that hampered their own internal views of both themselves and the galaxy at large. Because of this, The Forerunners are more aptly compared to another science fiction species, The Protheans from Mass Effect. For those not familiar with the series, or the species, I'll give another brief primer via the Mass Effect Wiki.
The Protheans are an ancient alien race which mysteriously vanished over 50,000 years ago. The Protheans arose from a single planet and developed an immense galaxy-wide empire encompassing many other spacefaring species. Not much is known about them, but many of their artifacts, ruins and technology have apparently survived the ages. 
Now, that is interesting enough when you compare them to the Forerunners on that single basis, as both species mysteriously vanished from one cause or another. However, the comparison really gets interesting when you compare their respective cultures and views on galactic hegemony.
The Protheans justified this cultural reconditioning by claiming that if the races who opposed them were actually stronger than the Protheans, then they would take the Protheans' place as the galaxy's dominant civilization. It was in keeping with their belief that evolution, or the 'Cosmic Imperative' as they termed it, was the driving force in the universe and that the strong must flourish by dominating the weak for the greater good of all.
This ideology was also dictated by necessity. After the Protheans encountered hostile machine intelligences, they ultimately decided that all organic races should join together for the sake of survival. Efforts to smoothly integrate newly-inducted servant races into the empire were made, like Prothean language tutorial programs. 
The Forerunners were incredibly similar, viewing species who defied their rule, or their own view of what they considered the "Mantle of Responsibility," to be unworthy of attaining independent thought or rule. This viewpoint was a major cause of the conflict between Forerunners and Ancient Humans, a devastating war that weakened both species when The Flood eventually arrived in force. However, I would argue that the war was a peripheral factor in their embarrassing defeat at the hands of The Flood. It was more a combination of their civilizations stagnant view on galactic diversity, among other things I will touch on later.
Like The Protheans, The Forerunners isolated other species (the prime examples would be the de-evolution of humanity and the isolation of the San Shyum to their homeworld) from achieving independent technological development or rule. The difference with the Protheans is that they later realized their mistake in meaningful way. IE, helping future species along with beacons of information, technology caches, and shutting off the main Mass Relay into dark space (Citadel.) With The Forerunners, you have no such realization, even after the Halo's fired as is indicative by The Didacts ideals within the confines of Halo 4's narrative. This line of rational, and thinking is completely against the Forerunner's own self proclaimed adherence to the Mantle. Firstly, the Mantle of Responsibility dictates that all life must be preserved by a sort of benevolent stewardship. A guiding hand which would assist fledgling species into achieving their own technological and social growth. Now, somewhere between The Forerunners stupidly committing genocide of The Precursors due to them wanting Humanity to achieve the Mantle, and their shortsighted greed of being the only "apex" species within the galaxy, The Forerunners warped the Mantle into more of a religious effigy. Along the lines of "defy our holy text/word, and be banished or isolated for you dare to question our supreme authority."
This is idiotic on so many levels, and even more egregious when you take into account this is a type III civilization. There is a hypothesis known as the great barrier, a set of biological and social hurdles that a species/society must leap through in order to achieve technological advance. Taking that into mind, it is a glorified miracle that The Forerunners, with all their inherent flaws and self-destructive behavior, actually managed to achieve type III. Between their liberal view of genocide, genetic purity ideals, and inner cultural isolation, it's as if a science fiction author created the perfect blend of a shit-show species and somehow managed to make them function on some advanced level. Much like a hastily thrown together automobile, with mix and match parts, someone manages to achieve engine ignition.
What is most perplexing, is that The Forerunners cultural stagnation was not caused by outside influence, but was self achieved. Cultural integration and mixing is an important biological and social factor in advancement. The United States is a perfect example of this. Because of the cultural, and societal melting pot that is the U.S., many of the worlds most brilliant inventions, advancements, and cultural revolutions took place within the good ol' fifty states. Possessing a multitude of cultures, who have vastly different view, ideals, and technology, is an opportunity for sharing greatness and achieving profound advancement both technologically and culturally. With the isolation of the San Shyum, de-evolution of Humanity, and the countless other forms of cultural quashing The Forerunners partook in, their level of stagnation is extremely impressive. As if they really hard to work to achieve such a negative impact on their own society. Indeed, the entire Ecume was formed around the view that they, The Forerunners, were all important, and all knowing.
I'm not even going to touch on the fact that a self proclaimed "all knowing" species was bamboozled by what can only be described as a neural based internet router (The Domain.) Having their entire culture and knowledge base be self contained in a digital database without actually knowing or understanding what said neural database actually was, is something you would expect from a Type I. It is akin to someone putting their entire life savings, memories, identity, and persona into some-form of bank without any prior knowledge of what said bank actually did or was. Now, you can attempt to defend this scenario by stating the The Forerunners defeated The Precursors, and understood their enemy, and technologies enough to utilize them. Which would be incredibly hypocritical, being that The Forerunners deemed anyone lesser than themselves as a species not worth investing in. So, why use The Domain if it was a technology developed by a species they conquered? Or, you could defend it by saying that The Forerunners were unaware of The Domain's purpose or construct. Which again, why use technology that is not well understood as a means for your entire species cultural and technological knowledge?
What is astounding, is this is the least egregious offense of Forerunner "intelligence."
Within any large scale conflict or war, especially one on a galactic scale, strategic and tactical knowledge is extremely important in order to achieve one's stated goals or victory. With all species in the Halo universe, this knowledge seems to be severely lacking, especially with the more ancient races. I'll delve right into it, no need to draw similarities to other franchises or series here, as this has more to do with technology than a fictional cultural debate.
The first instance which (as both an astrophysics scholar and science fiction academic) that grabs me as absurd was the handling of The Flood by ancient Humanity. When Human's first encountered The Flood they proceeded on a clear course of planetary sterilization, orbitally bombarding entire ecosystems into vapor. This included Forerunner held territory, which was an obvious reason the two species went to war soon after. The perplexing and mind boggling aspect I speak of here is why Humanity did not warn The Forerunners of The Flood and join forces in a common foe. Within Halo 4, there is an absolutely laughable instance when the Lord of Admirals instructs his subordinates that there is "No time to warn" The Forerunners of The Flood, and that they must sterilize the planets as soon as possible. First, the logistics of the situation afford much time in order to warm The Forerunners of The Flood threat. While The Flood spread quickly, they are confined to a single planet until they have attained some form of space travel. A blockade could be quickly established along the orbital path of a planet to ensure no ships leave the quarantined worlds. Second, both species had sub-light communications technology, such as quantum entanglement relays which could transmit data instantly. Informing the Forerunners of The Flood through this method would be an efficient and effective method to instantly coordinate efforts in collaboration. Lastly, The Forerunners made no attempt to asses the situation on their own worlds, and gather factual information for themselves. There is no instance within the lore which gives any detail as to communication ingoing or outgoing from infected worlds. Which for an advanced civilization is inexcusable.
The main fault within Forerunner strategy and tactics were most evident during the Forerunner/Flood war. Many of The Forerunner tactics defy any kind of intelligence, or at the very least common sense. Starting with the first planet where The Forerunners witnessed The Flood infection. Military doctrine at a very basic level states (even today in the modern world) that lost communication with an entire city is grounds for a massive force projection to investigate. A good example of this is that all British Vanguard class SSBNs carry what is known as the "Letter of Last Resort" which states that if communication is lost with the BBC for a questionable amount of time, each sub's captain has full authority to launch their payload. Forerunner's made an amateur tactical error, in sending only a small scout group to investigate. Once the full situation was realized, it was far too late to realistically do anything about The Flood within that sector. More baffling still, is that The Forerunner's seemed more or less oblivious to The Flood's capabilities despite Humanity encountering them decades earlier. Arrogance or stupidity, an advanced civilization such as The Forerunners would realistically be more well-informed or intelligent about their surroundings, or at the very least more reactive.
During the height of The war with The Flood, The Forerunner created an advanced AI known as "Mendicant Bias" to asses the Flood threat and make contact. In theory, the utilization of a hyper advanced AI to compile data and analysis research would be a great boon to The Forerunner war efforts. Strategically, it would make sense to store the AI in a hardened shelter or large capital ship in order to receive incoming data from smaller scout teams and then find weaknesses. In the case of the lore, however, The Forerunners committed perhaps one of their most idiotic decisions. Sending Mendicant into space, alone, to compile data and make contact with The Flood. This makes little to no logical or strategic sense. Shooting your most advanced AI out into the vast galaxy, unguarded with no observable support is folly on the scale of WW1 tactics pre-1918. Firstly, sending out an advanced piece of hardware into enemy territory with no defense is laughable, as the enemy could (as The Flood did) capture and utilize that advanced technology against you in the future. Secondly, it was known for some time before the creation of Mendicant Bias that The Flood were capable of interacting with synthetic technology. It is then not difficult to extrapolate out as a strategy making military official, that The Flood could compromise AI technology at some level or another. What really makes this entire ordeal even more absurd is that Mendicant Bias was sentient and therefore corruptible. The Forerunners, in a realistic universe/scenario, would have been privy to this and would have developed some form of counter defense in order to shield Mendicant Bias from becoming compromised or indoctrinated. This could include logic based fail-safes, or a quantum entanglement killswitch.
In the later stages of The Flood war, The Forerunners created a barrier known as "The Maginot Line." A probable reference to the same French tactic used during WW2 against German invasion. Just as with WW2, there are several weaknesses with such a strategy. Firstly, the tactic replicates a single line of defense; that is multiple forces are spread out across a static defense barrier. The positive to this is that all possible routes are covered, the massive downside is that forces are spread thinly and can be breached much more easily. This is what transpired in WW2, with German forces breached French defenses. Similarly, The Forerunners created a single line of defense against The Flood, completely ineffective because of how space-time functions as a directionless vector and environment. The phrase itself literally means "giving a false sense of security." A more more solid plan would have created a planetary defense or at least a system defense, where ships are staggered in a three dimensional formation in a spherical "globe." This gives each fleet a complete orientation of staggered support fire, so if The Flood break one "sphere" the other can close in an support from all angles instead of a horizontal line, where enemy ships can go either over or under.
To do a little strategic study, and let the mind wander to the point where I was supreme commander of the Forerunner fleet, these are the actions I would take in order to bolster defenses in regards to a space-time environment.
The last segment within this article is perhaps the most damning in terms of Forerunner incompetence.
The Forerunners are at the cusp of what is known as a "technological singularity." That is on top of, their artificial stellar engineering, digital synthesis, and genetic manipulation. However, The Forerunners seem to have little to almost no understanding of the incredibly advance technology they weird and utilize. There are so many examples of this within Halo's tomes of lore, so I will only be touching on the most egregious examples. I'll start with The Domain.
While the Domain is not Forerunner technology, instead being of Precursor origin, The Forerunners nonetheless utilize this incredibly advanced data-bank to house their collective culture/identity. Now, this is unsettling and ridiculous in a number of ways. Firstly, a tier III species would inevitably have created their own storage method for housing their species' collective consciousness. You look at other technologies The Forerunners have utilized, such as digital synthesis of biological mass, and can clearly draw upon a fairly accurate assumption that the Domain was not needed, and would have been more or less an anomaly to such an advanced species. Secondly, The Domain is completely unknown technology to Forerunner understanding. The Organon as The Forerunners call the Domain, was not well-studied or understood.
The Domain had its own set of rules and restrictions it rarely violated. Forerunners could only view information that they already knew or what was otherwise available to them, namely data stored in the Domain in recent times. The deepest records contained in the Domain could not be accessed, due in no small part because information in the Domain was not static: the records changed over time as new visits by newer generations laid new layers of information which settled into its own patterns and sought to make itself more complete. 
"The records don't always stay the same. Sometimes they change. It is not known why."
"Like real memories."
—Bornstellar-Makes-Eternal-Lasting and Chakas discussing the Domain [Halo: Cryptum, page 167-168]
Essentially, The Forerunners collected their entire society around a device/technology they had no understanding of. This would be akin to you throwing your life savings, social security, identification information, and birth certificate into a newly created bank you have no clue of in terms of their operational methods or security. It becomes even more absurd when you see The Forerunners taken aback in astonishment after they realize that the Precursors/Flood have used The Domain to undo much of Forerunner society. Back to the bank analogy; I'm fairly sure you would shake your head in depressed amusement if someone fell victim to said bank's shady practices. We are not talking about humanity however, but a tier III species. It is beyond absurd.
Finally, The Domain is self aware in a sense. Being able to compile data on it's surrounding's and enact some form of change based on it's findings. That would assume one of two things.
1) The Forerunners could create advanced sentient AI, but could not detect it. (A paradox)
2) They could somehow both create and detect sentient AI/datastream, but not counter its algorithms or data purges in case of an outside source negatively influencing it. (Unlikely considering the advanced nature of The Forerunners)
This applies to both The Domain, as well as Mendicant Bias. So what it boils down to is The Forerunners one again having the common sense ability akin to a dolt attempting to mow his or her yard with a bathroom plunger.
The next and final example is of the Halo array and The Composer. Ok, let me break down these technologies as best one can with extrapolation technology development. The Composer is essentially A DNA/RNA scanner, which maps individual biological signatures/makeup and uploads it into a digital format/storage method. That is, The Composer must have the ability to target very specific and individualized strands of DNA/RNA in order to achieve an accurate mapping of the subject for upload. It must be precise, I cannot stress this enough. Any margin of error would lead to the digital transfer being corrupted, much like an .EXE file is not executable if one or two files are missing.
On the other end of the spectrum, The Halo array is a harmonic radiation pulse weapon which disseminates harmful radiation (gamma/alpha) across a vast distance indiscriminately killing all biological life. The Halo array is a nuclear option, in a situation which required a hammer and nail approach. Here is why. The composer targets specific DNA/RNA, by its very nature it must in order to compile the data to transfer into the digital realm. So, The Forerunner have a DNA/RNA scanning and targeting mechanism which uploads biological entities into a digital realm/format. To reiterate, it is a targeted biological scanning array.
By the rules and laws of reality in which one technology can supplement or compliment another, why wasn't this technology incorporated into the Halo array in order to specifically target certain biology? It doesn't matter how adaptable the Flood supercell structure is, targeted radiation would only affect certain latent DNA/RNA strands We have this technology now in terms of proton targeted cancer treatments that target specific cancer cells. Halo's universe is telling us a civilization infinitely surpassing our own cannot achieve this same level of accuracy on a much larger scale? Being that science fiction (once "speculative fiction") is a genre of extrapolation and knowledgeable imagination, this all seems fairly implausible. The argument has been made that The Flood can change their biology, and that is very true. However, The Flood cannot circumnavigate the building blocks of what they are at a microscopic and molecular level. That is the very definition of a "supercell" organism. If I rip out just one of my DNA segments, the rest will also fall apart due to how complex biology works. You don't need to target the entire structure, just a portion of it. Let's not even go into the notion that The Forerunners could have engineered a multi-stage DNA de-compiling virus to dismantle The Flood supercell at a molecular level. Being that they, you know, can already alter entire biological structures in precise detail.
The composer and the Halo array utilize basically the same manner of technology in terms of targeted harmonics, one is input, and the other is output. Granted, one is a digital compiler and the other is a harmonic radiation emitter that is pretty indiscriminate. Technology can be interchangeable, especially for such an advanced civilization that can engineer entire artificial star systems. Targeted radiation is technologically feasible in our own society right now, it is absurd to think The Forerunners lack the ability to implement this on a grand scale or at least within interchangeable means. The Halo array, Meathrillian, Shield Worlds, Ancilla, and their stellar engineering technologies tells us differently.
The Halo array was a desperate option, created by a species that was not desperate because they lacked options (contrary to what The Librarian spews forth,) but instead because they lacked the intelligence to supplement their technologies and realize that their already created achievements were worth some merit elsewhere. The Composer was discounted by many Forerunners, not realizing that a failed technology in one capacity can be useful elsewhere. Which again, for a tier III species is absolutely ridiculous.
The Forerunners post Halo 3 are perhaps my least liked science fiction species/narrative. While Greg Bear did an admirable job in attempting to shed a meaningful light on The Forerunners, the material he was working with was already fundamentally flawed. Like The Forerunners themselves, the narrative centered around them lacked any common sense or research. The mysterious beings, those which hide in the dark recesses of the galaxy and in our mind are often the most compelling. H.P. Lovecraft utilized this to great effect, and many other authors have bent the limits of our imaginations with creatures so advanced it makes us wonder what else is out there we do not understand.
The Forerunners are now center-stage in a galactic wide space opera that functions more like an unintentional comedy than it does a meaningful universe. It's a shame, truly. Because before 343i became obsessed with fleshing out The Forerunners in their own special way, they had the potential to be an integral yet mysterious part of a much greater narrative.
What we see and know, often inspires us to imagine what we cannot see or do not know.
Sources Utilized In The Creation of This Article
Diamond, Jared. Collapse. N.p.: Penguin Ltd., 2011. Print.
HALDEMAN, JOE. FOREVER WAR. S.l.: TITAN , 2017. Print.
SETI: search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1990. Print.
Cultural identity: fiction or necessity. London: Kala Press, 1992. 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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