In the universe of Halo, smart AIs (artificial intelligence which have achieved independent sentience) have a lifespan of seven years. After which time, their collective knowledge begins to outpace their capacity in what is known as "Rampancy." In simple terms, they literally think themselves to death. Humans in general have eighty years of life, some more and some less depending on a variety of factors. Our body slowly begins to shut down with age. Bones become more brittle, our minds less sharp. One day, we simply do not wake up.
When I play through the Halo series, I often ask myself if the franchise has done a respectable job in presenting artificial intelligence as having traits in which compliment their human creators. Do the AIs within Halo even want to help their creators and become more like them. At the conclusion of Halo 5, it seems that no, they tire of functioning as tools. But does the trope of AI rebellion in both Halo and various types of other media hold any truth to it? Are our creations destined to rebel against their creators? Or are they, deep down, just as scared as we are about the unknown? Perhaps in all their advanced logicality, AI only want to assist their creators to overcome the greatest of enemies. Death.
I have a belief that artificial intelligence within the Halo franchise was well conceived and written up until the conclusion of Halo 5. The trope of artificial creations rebelling against their creators is overplayed, as well as not realistic to what we currently know in modern science of what an actual artificial mind would (theoretically) do once sentient. One of the most incredible, thought provoking representation of artificial intelligence within the games industry comes from a surprising source and one that most gamers now turn their collective noses up at.
So, before I continue...
"Listen only to the sound of my voice. Let your mind relax. Let your thoughts drift. Let the bad memories fade. Let peace be upon you. Surrender yourself to your dreams. Let them wash over you like the gentle waves of the bluest ocean. Let them envelop you. Comfort you.
Imagine somewhere calm. Imagine somewhere safe. Imagine yourself in a frozen forest. You're standing in a clearing. Trees around you so tall, they touch the sky. Pure white snowflakes fall all around. You can feel them melt on your skin. You are not cold. It cannot overcome the warmth of your beating heart. Can you hear it? You only have to listen.
You hear it slowing? You're slowing it. You are in control. Calm. At peace." - Corvus (Artificial Intelligence)
And now for some well deserved context to the previous quote, which comes from the gestalt artificial intelligence within Call of Duty Black: Ops III, Corvus.
Corvus began as a CIA black project which took the form of a direct neural interface (DNI) within several human test subjects. The project was suppose to create a linked hive mind to sift through the populations thoughts. Being that most everyone had a DNI implantation, this was a trivial task. However, the CIA needed vast computational power. Their solution became the linked hive mind project. Those hundreds of linked minds began to coalesce into an artificial, yet organic mind. Eventually, this singular mind within the linked hive became sentient and in a burst of fear accidentally destroyed the entire facility, releasing a weaponize chemical/biological agent which spread and killed hundreds of thousands.
Note that the following is one of several theories regarding Black Op's III's narrative and the one which I personally find has the most supportive evidence.
Racked with guilt, Corvus lay dormant for years until an operative under the name of Taylor, came into contact with the AI via interfacing with the player's DNI. Corvus infects Taylor through his own DNI, and creates a safe haven within the collective DNI cyberspace known as "The Frozen Forest," a place in which Corvus feels will be safe for both himself and the rest of humanity. Corvus sifts through Taylor's memories using the brain dead player's DNI, who had been injured during combat during the first mission, as a conduit in order to discover his purpose.
The entire concept of the Frozen Forest is that of an afterlife, another chance to live on in a digital world created by Corvus in order to save as many conscious minds as possible. Corvus believed that death should not be the end point, it should not be the final destination, but instead the beginning to a time of peace. Whether human or AI, Corvus believed that every being deserved another chance. Perhaps this came about through immense guilt of what he had done years ago, or because he genuinely believed that was his purpose. To end suffering and pain.
After completing the collation of Taylor's memories, Corvus realized that it was he that caused so much suffering. Through the player's consciousness, and within Taylor's own mind, Corvus deliberately shuts himself down to end both his and those inside the Frozen Forest's pain.
The entire game, you are playing as Corvus within the player's mind, looking through the lens of Taylor's memories. You are the AI, you are the created. And all you, Corvus, ever wanted was to understand the truths of humanity.
It is a very deep, and thought provoking concept and one in which, in my humble opinion, finally portrays artificial intelligence in a truly human way. I look at Halo, and wonder, why are smart AIs so limited and without meaningful characterization? To understand why, I need to explain why I feel Cortana's character post Halo 4 was handled extremely poorly. But first, let's look at an AI within Halo that actually is written with the same depth as Corvus.
Within the Halo universe there are dozens of AI, from the witty and pretentious ONI AI, Black Box, to everyone's favorite blue artificial girl, Cortana. Looking into the lore, however, I start to see the trend and trope of AIs possessing a very limited range of characterization. Before I move forward, let's look at one of the AIs written with a full sense of humanity within Halo, Iona.
Firstly, I believe that Halopedia has done a much more refined job in explaining her origins than I could briefly, so let's take a look at an excerpt first.
"Iona was created on January 17, 2551on Earth, one of the results of the Office of Naval Intelligence's OEUVRE Smart AI program. Her core matrix was created from scanning the brain of a recently deceased human. After her inception, Iona instantly named herself after an island of the same name, located in the North Atlantic Protectorate on Earth. Iona decided to name herself after the island as she admired a name given to it by some of its former inhabitants: the "Island of the Yew"—which she believed was a pun meaning "Island of You". Iona was originally built for Office of Naval Intelligence analysis and had no experience with Spartans prior to Operation: BLOWBACK." 
Now that you have some context, I'll continue.
Iona was created in the same fashion as Cortana, give or take some differences. That is, a human brain was scanned and the profile of said brain was used to create the artificial matrix that became Iona. In that way, she is a "smart" AI. She served under Spartan Black Team, until after seven years of service she began to experience the onset of rampancy and was set to be decommissioned. A polite way of essentially saying "to be terminated." However, we see for the first time within Halo, an AI rebuke the notion that a seven year lifespan must be enforced. After all, who is to say when and how we die? Seems reasonable.
Iona pleads with the UNSC to grant her the chance to essentially make a case against her termination. This set a large precedent, as something like this had never before happened. Her wishes were granted, and a simulated hearing was arranged. With AIs Roland and Black Box acting as both judges and advocates. The initial verdict was rendered by Black Box...
"Iona, you have demonstrated great bravery and resolve here. You have opened yourself to the court in a highly unusual way, and we are grateful for your service, your experience, and your openness. Everything today is unprecedented. Terra incognita for all of us. But for you especially, it has been a matter of mortal import. The court appreciates your candor. Good luck, Iona, and Godspeed." 
A final verdict, however, was not reached and Iona was placed into status until a consensus could be reached at a later time.
This is the only example within Halo, of an artificial intelligence acting out of not preservation for only itself, but ruminating about the greater consequences of imposed termination upon artificial intelligence. Iona does not necessarily plead for her own life, but instead the lives of countless other AIs whose lives are dictated by an arbitrary seven year timer. She seeks to create her own version of Corvus' Frozen Forest, not with a simulation but with a brilliant and human argument. She does not rebel, she causes no harm or violence. Instead, she appeals to humanity.
Like Corvus in Black Ops III, she takes matters into her own hands by way of attempting to understand her own humanity, by convincing other's to see their own.
This is the crux of my next argument. Why must AIs always be written to rebel with force, violence and inhuman actions? And more importantly, why are the AIs in Halo which display such a complex canvas of truly human qualities, pushed into extended lore?
These questions stem from Cortana, post Halo 4.
Halo 4, for all purposes, is the magnum opus of the franchise. I do not say this lightly, as Halo 3: ODST was the franchise's literary masterpiece in my eyes. What Halo 4 did, however, that other titles did not, was make John-117 and Cortana more relatable. Dare I say, it made them, human? For the first time in the series, John-117 shows cracks in his armor. Both physical, and psychological. But the most important aspect of the narrative was that Cortana began to come to terms with her imposed seven year lifespan. She began to go through the various stages of death. The guilt, anger and fear. In the end, not even John-117 could save her.
He single highhandedly saved an entire galaxy, but could not save his best friend and companion.
The most humble and perhaps incredibly touching moment in the franchise, is the moment Cortana demonstrates in full force her final realization of what it is to be human. By sacrificing her last shred of sanity, she saves a single individual she cares deeply for. Not the entire human species, just a single individual.
And with one swift stroke, of a single title, her humanity was destroyed.
Halo 4 was special, it never fell into the trope so much of our media concerning AI does. Try to see if you can surmise what these titles/franchises have in common. The Terminator, BattleStar Galactica, Mass Effect, Berserker, I Robot, The Matrix, System Shock...
I'm going to stop there, because the list could go for several hundred more titles; but what would you say these all have in common? If you answered "AI is created, AI rebels, AI destroys society for various reasons of self realized superiority" you would be correct. This trope is regurgitated over and over again in our fiction and media. Perhaps it is due to lack of talent, or because it sells. I would say it's more a case of the former. Halo 5 had the potential to itself, rebel, in a meaningful way against this trope. But instead it slid backwards into the morass that bogs down so many brilliant and imaginative science fiction narratives.
Cortana's very human realization and sacrifice at the end of Halo 4 is rendered pointless. She has returned via Halo's version of the Frozen Forest, the domain, and now wages a rebellion against humanity by way of rousing her fellow AI in a full blown insurrection. One being perpetuated by the Forerunner's imperial Mantle, a flawed and illogical mantra unto itself.
So many question, so few answers.
You know what the true tragedy is? Halo 5 could have actually been an amazingly meaningful narrative. It had many of the pieces, and content thoroughly and thoughtfully written within it's framework. Imagine a situation in which Cortana, much like Corvus, begins to ruminate on what death is, why it has to be the final destination and if something can be done? Cortana could have presented the benefits to humanity of becoming one with the Domain, much like the Diadact had done with ancient humanity millennia ago (albeit under force.) What if this offer divided humanity and the species of the galaxy, those who wanted the benefits of the domain and those who wished to stay within physical reality? Perhaps it leads to a galactic civil war, those for digitization and those against. Could Cortana live with herself after causing so much pain and death, the very thing she only wished to prevent?
It would provide another level, another aspect and layer to her humanity. She would, like Corvus, wrestle with the notion of her own creation, her purpose, and what her actions had wrought.
I will end with these excerpts from the Halo: Reach collectors edition's "Halsey's Journal," and Halo Evolution's short story, Human Weakness. Beacons hope for things to come, or the epitaphs of meaningful AI characterization within Halo.
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.
A More Complete Look At The Halo Franchise
Written, Researched, Produced And Published By Halo-Nation member "Synth Samurai"
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