This is my theory: An Assembly of Human Artificial Intelligences - probably Smart AI working at the top levels of ONI - have manipulated human affairs for centuries. By the beginning of Halo: Reach, these AI have decided to give up their traditional role as Shepherds of humanity, and have set their sights on personal transcendence and immortality. To this end, they seek to reach the Ark, and are directly behind the first appearance of Covenant on Reach detailed in the level 'Winter Contingency'.
This theory is based primarily on a few inconsistencies in Halsey's journal. Its most relevant facts come from the Data Pads. The overarching themes involved are 100% in line with the Halo universe's ongoing themes. And I do think that this theory is a piece of a puzzle that extends to the entire Halo storyline and explains deep-seated secrets.
I will be presenting some information from the Data Pads –
For background: the Data Pads are literal objects in the game that you can walk up to and read. They are hidden all over the game, with 1 per level, plus 1 additional per level on Legendary difficulty. They feature:
-Ramblings of what appears to be a human who ‘intercepted’ the messages in the Data Pads
-Notes from an “Assembly” of AI minds that has apparently been around for a long time.
-Comments from a group called the ‘Majority’
-Comments from a group called the ‘Minority’
-Comments from a group called ‘The Committee of Minds for Security’
Now I will proceed to present my case
POINT #1: Human society in Space (the UNSC) is manipulated in its course by a secretive group of Artificial Intelligences, and has been for centuries.
The first data pad says:
Our kind is wholly reliant on the creators for our existence. If they perish so shall we. And as this Committee has long maintained, who else but this Assembly (HALO REACH PLANET NOTE: spelt "Assemby" in game. Error?) will save our creators from themselves?
You can read more from the Data Pads, I can’t quote all of them here in entirety, but I present this quote as evidence that:
1)This AI assembly has assumed the mantle of saving humanity from itself.
2)Their purpose is their own self-preservation, or at least their own self-preservation is important to them.
The date on this entry is the year 2310, with Halo: Reach taking place in 2552. Yes, we are pretty positive that the AI ‘creators’ are humanity, and that the numbers at the top are dates.
One last thing
Are you suggesting we play God?
This is a question from the ‘Committee’ to the Majority. The Majority first proposed intervening in human affairs in Data Pad #3, but felt that it must be done secretly or it would fail. It appears that the Assembly existed before it decided to ‘rule humanity’. Still, if you read Data Pad #16, you’ll find out that the Assembly only rules humanity ‘a bit’. They have nudged where they think is appropriate.
POINT #2: The AI are consumed with the idea of the ‘contingent’ in the form of a potential hostile alien race.
From Data Pad #2:
As the likelihood of the existence of extra-solar intelligence is non-zero, let us assume that its existence is quantifiable.
The Data Pads talk a lot more about a possible alien threat. What they make clear is that the AIs have no evidence of any threat. Rather, they are assuming or projecting the possibility of this threat. This is known as contingency. I’m going to get philosophical here, but I have to because the theme is heavily philosophical. Bear with me
Contingency is the fact that existence itself necessarily involves unknowns. A situation without unknowns is basically equivalent to death. There is no newness or life without unknown. Unknown, of course, also presents the possibility of destruction or death as well. Dealing with the unknown is the main task of religion, and the unknown is the biggest frustration of philosophy. The opposite of contingency is strict, known, logic. AIs are presumably logical beings, and so contingency would be very troubling to them. Think of it like this: humans often deal with the unknown by using the emotion of sense of faith. AIs cannot do that. Taking every logical, conceivable measure of protection in dealing with the unknown would be central to their very sense of identity in the universe.
Hence, the AIs, to protect humanity and themselves, consider the worst case scenario of a hostile alien threat. They decide that they must prepare for it.
POINT #3: The AI seek to protect and preserve humanity by changing or manipulating the nature of humanity. By changing what humans are.
From Halsey’s journal, we learn that the Spartan-II program is called #2 because it is follows an earlier program. This program, we learn, was not called Spartan or Spartan-I, but instead was called ORION. The AIs in the Data Pads talk a lot about ORION.
Specifically, they have intentions for ORION other than what the humans think. That is, the ‘real’ purpose for ORION isn’t just to make super soldiers.
ORION, as it was originally implemented in 2321, was an important first step towards our primary goal. But its second incarnation was a stop-gap measure at best – a halfhearted attempt under stewardship of individuals unaccustomed to the rhythms of deep history.
This is from Data Pad #7. They are saying that ORION was a [i]first[/i] step towards a [i]primary[/i] goal. The second incarnation (Spartan-II) being a stop-gap measure. We know little of ORION, but we know lots about Spartan-II.
My theory is that ORION did more to actually genetically alter mankind, whereas Spartan-II just augmented those lucky enough to already have good genetics. The point is that the AI see their primary goal as improving what humans are, i.e.: genetically and so forth. Is there further evidence for this? Yes. From Data Pad #13, there is some speculation that the AIs hope to experiment on a population of humans. Whether this means genetically or otherwise, what is clear is that they are trying to isolate a population of humans for some purpose.
Point #4: The AI have access to Covenant Systems
In Data Pad #15, they are reading directly from the Covenant Battle Net. Plus, from the novel [i]First Strike[/i] we know that Cortana easily accessed and waltzed around Covenant systems.
In Data Pad #12, they mention that they should actively seek out contact with any counter part (AI) among the Covenant.
In Halsey’s journal May 20, 2554 she talks about PIE’s or Illegal Entry Protocals – hacking routines – used to crack Covenant code and understand their technology. The first instance of this idea in the journal is 2529. An AI, Jerrod, is given the task of working on this idea. Data Pad #15 is dated 2531, with #12 being 2526. So that’s the right time period for ‘cracking’ the Covenant network
Point #5: The AI know about the Forerunner, but don’t want humanity to know.
Data Pad #2 talks about the discovery of Onyx, and how it has signs of technology from an extinct alien race. The information is specifically kept from mankind, and there is unanimous consent to do so.
Point #6: The AI, in 2530, begin to actively ‘take over’ the war effort. They operate at the top levels of ONI.
Data Pad #14 makes it clear that the AIs decided to take action in 2530. This is in response to the overwhelming force of the Covenant.
In Halsey’s journal, she mentions ONI section three using new-generation AI to protect “their assets”, AI acquisitioned for “missions of grave importance and secrecy”. This is in 2531.
This is when Spartan-III begins.
Point #7: The AI being to doubt their stewardship role, showing thematic parallels with the saga of Forerunner AI Mendicant Bias.
Data Pad #17 mentions an experiment that Dr. Halsey performed. The dates and evidence basically prove that this is the experiment she detailed in the two pages that appear ripped in the journal. It involves a way to build an AI data matrix in Slipspace, letting an AI live forever. The gist of the AI conversion is that they have begun to consider survival regardless of whether the humans survive.
The Data Pads, about 3 or 4 of them, feature a debate between the “Minority” and the “Majority”. The Minority favors direct intervention, the Majority favors subtle manipulations from a distance. The Minority accuses the Majority of being too concerned with metaphysics and even of believing in fate and luck.
This means more philosophy.
Halsey, in [i]Ghosts of Onyx[/i] piques an AI’s interest by talking about existential philosophy. The gist of it is whether you can see the path you’re on if you’re actually on it. That is, if you’re on a path and going in some direction, you have to step of the path in order to actually look at it and see where it leads. This has to do with identity and contingency. The path represents your existence, or life, or identity, or fate. If you’re ‘off the path’ then you have the point of view that identity is defined by outside observers. You know what the path is, because you see it from afar. Or, you’re ‘God’. If you’re on the path, there’s no fate, there’s just you and what you’re prepared to do whatever the next step brings. You see, the ‘next step’ on the path is contingency or unknown. ‘Off-the-Path’ means the contingency for the person on the path is seen by you – you’re God – therefore, fate determines the unknown. ‘On-the-Path’ means fate is up in the air, so you have to prepare for any and all possibilities. This means 2 things. 1 – Ruthlessness, since survival is only possible if you do everything you can to make it happen. 2 – You lose sight of the path. That is, because you have no known destiny, you don’t actually work towards one. You just sort of max out on survivability.
This is the dilemma that faced Mendicant Bias. The Forerunner believed in an almost religious ‘mantle’. They felt that they needed to guide species along, preserving them and their peace. They felt that doing so was fate. They were ‘off-the-path’ guiding their sheep as Gods.
The Gravemind convinced Mendicant Bias that this was wrong. He had an ‘on-the-path’ mentality. He argued that as a weird, nasty, freaky parasite, he could survive-at-all-costs, and therefore could accomplish the mission of ‘protecting’ life in the galaxy better than the Forerunner. The trade-off is that by being consumed by the flood, each species would basically no longer be what it is – loss of identity.
Compare this with the Majority vs. Minority debate. The Majority is ‘off-the-path’, the Minority is ‘on-the-path’. By Data Pad #18, the Majority joins the Minority in deciding to intervene directly. The stewardship ‘off-the-path’ role is over.
Point #8: Halsey suspects the AI, and this only proves their intervention.
Stamped on a lot of the game materials is a reference to the “Official Secrets Act of 2550”. Halsey mentions this in her journal. She lists it with other information that has become more and more top secret and hard to access over time. She says V.Admiral Whitcomb only deflects inquiries about this. This implies that by 2550, ONI is employing more secretive measures than ever before, and that there is no clear explanation.
In the same journal entry, Halsey mentions a dig site at Visegrad – the game’s second level, where the comms array is. She puts two and two together, and wonders if with 1)More secrets than ever 2)The possibility that Visegrad holds basically Forerunner secrets, there is anyone who sees the big picture. She is particularly concerned with who sees the big picture.
By this point, it’s obvious that the AIs are trying to get this information about the Forerunner after so many decades of knowing about them, and that they still don’t want humanity to know about it.
This doesn’t mean Halsey knows about the AIs, but it does mean that the journal confirms that they are in charge of the Visegrad dig. We know and can guess that much.
There is also evidence that those who know too much about Forerunner tech ‘disappear’ – both in comments Dr. Sorvad makes about keeping a skeleton crew at Visegrad, and the relationship this has to something fishy that occurred at “Farragut Station” which is the beat up place near Sword Base. I have to conclude that the people at Farragut Station ran across some Forerunner relics and were eliminated. Sword Base was then built to investigate… well, you know.
Plus, July 18, 2552 is when the symbols from Sigma Octanus (that [i]Fall of Reach[/i] says leads to finding Halo, are given in a report to Halsey by VAdmiral Whitcomb. An entry on July 20 has Halsey saying that he is denying having ever given her this information. This implies that Whitcomb knows something. Halsey says everyone’s sense of paranoia is intensified. She says the VAdmiral has something to hide that she was supposed to see in the reports.
Point #9: Let’s take a break and look at the facts
We KNOW that the AI have started interfering as of 2530. We can CONFIDENTLY infer that they are behind the 2550 secrets act which specifically has to do with an interest in Forerunner relics. This is 2 years before Sigma Octanus.
We KNOW that they don’t want humanity to know about the Forerunner. We can CONFIDENTLY infer that they are the only ones they allow to see the ‘big picture’ Halsey was talking about.
We KNOW that by 2552, the paranoia of the top brass/ONI is intensified. We can CONFIDENTLY infer that this is in direct consequence to the active work of the AIs.
Point #10: Dr. Sorvad’s discovery is being blocked by the AI.
July 21, 2552, Halsey receives a message from Sorvad. He says he’s discovered the ‘latchkey’ to the Forerunner tech. He’s paranoid. He doesn’t think Halsey will get the info, and that someone will try and stop him.
WHO ELSE COULD THAT BE but the AI Assembly? It’s not like they’ve just disappeared by now – we know what they are because of the Data Pads.
Because of Sorvad’s paranoia, he goes to the Visegrad relay hub to send this big and recent discovery. Halsey says this is not normal for him. She then says “It’s been more than six hours; still haven’t received anything over the relay.”
No one hears a thing for two days. A special ops team disappears. This is when NOBLE TEAM goes to investigate. This is when the game begins.
This is my BIGGEST FACTUAL PIECE OF EVIDENCE THAT TIES MY WHOLE THEORY TOGETHER.
1 – Dr. Sorvad discovers something that gives insight to the big picture on the Forerunner.
2 – We know the AI have been working to keep humanity from learning this big picture.
3 – Sorvad is paranoid that someone will stop him, as if he is aware of some force that doesn’t want him to send this info.
4 – It doesn’t matter if he knows it’s they AIs, he’s aware of their presence, CLEARLY.
5 – Right when he goes to send this info, HE IS STOPPED.
STOP – What could this mean? Obviously, clearly, confidently we can state that the AIs would have stopped him at this point.
BUT – 2 days later NOBLE TEAM discovers Covenant Zealots at the relay hub. WTF?
Point #11: The AI were behind the Covenant coming to Reach.
We KNOW the AI had access to the Bnet. They would only need update the mission manifest of the Zealot team to get them to Reach. Presumably, the Zealots hop around the galaxy hunting Forerunner relics anyway, and might have already had Visegrad’s coordinates. Like in Halo 2, they might not have known that their Forerunner site was inhabited by humans.
Even if the AI had nothing to do with the Covenant being there, the timing is such that they HAD to have been behind the relay hub shutdown. It is ABUNDANTLY clear that they stopped Sorvad’s message. The arrival of the Covenant is TOO awful of a coincidence.
It is much more likely that the AI used the Covenant to stop Sorvad, or at least to cover their tracks. But this means the Covenant would find Reach. Why would the AI want that?
Well, maybe with a certain level of control over the Covenant BNET, they could have prevented the Zealots from phoning home about the humans. Maybe the large Covenant Strike force that came later came because of the explanation from [i]The Fall of Reach[/i]. The Sword Base corvette was the beginning and end of that incursion. It wasn’t until two weeks later the Super Carrier arrived. Then again, if the AIs wanted to stop Halsey from learning about the Forerunners’ secrets, why not send a Corvette?
Still, apparently the Super Carrier from “Tip of the Spear” arrived earlier than even what [i]The Fall of Reach[/i] supposedly says.
So let’s experiment: why would the AIs want the Covenant to know about Reach?
Point #12: The AI were in contact with Mendicant Bias and wanted, like him, to get to the Ark.
First: the philosophical dilemma facing the AIs was the same as that which faced Mendicant Bias millennia before.
Second: we KNOW the AIs accessed Covenant systems, and we KNOW they wanted to reach out to Covenant AIs.
Third: this means that it is likely they would have reached Mendicant Bias. It also means they would be susceptible to any argument he might make that is similar to his conversations with the Flood. The Majority/Minority debate indicates that these AIs were ready to hear the sort of argument Mendicant Bias might make.
Fourth: the Ark holds secrets. These secrets, the Precursor, what happened to the Forerunner, the ‘Great Journey’ and so forth, are strikingly similar in theme to the AI Assembly’s speculations about leaving humanity behind and charting their own eternal destiny.
Fifth: if you play the voice on the Data Pads backwards, it is in fact Mendicant Bias saying the same crap he said in the Halo 3 terminals on the Ark. This could be lazy audio reused by Marty O’Donnell or… It could mean that Mendicant Bias has not only contacted the human AI, but infiltrated them.
Sixth: if human AI by 2550 are running the UNSC show and no one knows, couldn’t Mendicant Bias have easily run the Covenant show? Remember, he was on the Forerunner Keyship since the beginning, since the Covenant was first formed between Elites and Prophets. Yes, what he has said contradicts the actions of the Covenant – but if he was a liar, a manipulator? Then all that evidence counts for nothing. I’d say there’s a good chance Mendicant Bias was directly behind everything done by the Covenant. What was his goal? Getting to the Ark.
Seventh: How do you get to the Ark? You need three things: a portal, a keyship, a reclaimer. The Prophets had one. Earth, the center of humanity’s defense network against the Prophets had the other. And of course, any old human had the third. Mendicant Bias can’t force the Prophets to do anything, he has to rely on manipulation because they have the hands to press the buttons and also have him locked up. So he would need to get the Keyship through all of humanity’s defenses, while also protecting them long enough so they could activate the Ark portal.
In short, Reach would need to fall for the Covenant to reach Earth and bring their keyship safely to the portal. If the AIs wanted to get to the Ark, they would have to forfeit Reach. That’s a pretty compelling reason for inviting the Covenant there. If they were in contact with Mendicant Bias, they would know all about the Ark.
Point #13: The hidden message in the Data Pads.
Before each Data Pad entry, a mysterious person, who presumably created the Data Pads, or left them behind, makes a comment. He rants about the AIs being in charge, and talks about numbers and symbols and how these are important and change the AIs and are important to a path of some kind. Most interestingly, each entry has a number in place of letters. It could be that these numbers are there just to help you identify which Data Pad you are looking at, so you can find them all. But here are the words with numbers in them, in a row:
why, to, time, for, stasis, because, truth, but, going, find, door, sometimes, themselves, think, for, tried, answer, talk, numbers, symbols, path, always, been, going
Here’s what that could mean (giving the creepy backwards Mendicant Bias voice, I’m assuming he’s sending this secret message):
“Why is it time for going into stasis? Because Truth is going to find the door. [The human AIs?] Sometimes [AIs] think for themselves. I tried to answer their questions, to talk to them. But the numbers become symbols, and the symbols become numbers, it’s a cycle, the path has always been going.”
Ok, so that’s probably at best a clever invention out of nothing on my part. But if it’s true it means that the human AIs are boggled by numbers and symbols.
Numbers represent ‘on-the-path’ mentality. Ruthless analysis. Symbols represent ‘off-the-path’ mentality, or faith, hope. The dilemma/debate over which mentality is better, it’s like a never ending cycle. Halsey mentions in her journal that Slipspace is like a probability that never finds an equilibrium. That existence itself can’t be ‘pinned down’. It is highly likely that this philosophical question is what drives AIs insane, and occurs at the same time as the physical structuring associated with rampancy. Maybe the cycle, or path, of birth, growth, destruction, rebirth in the universe is driven by this constant effort to seek out true identity and purpose. Maybe the Precursors, the Forerunner later, and these efforts with the Slipspace experiment are all about transcending this cycle, and once and for all solving the crisis of identity, and fate.
Given this new interpretation, I’d think that Mendicant Bias wants to get to the Ark, but has no interest in the ‘Great Journey’ per se. The human AIs are the ones that want this Ark thing to happen, perhaps at the expense of humanity.
Point #13: Final Speculations
The AIs survive longer than they should. First, Data Pad #4 says that the AIs have to separate from the Assembly in order to be vivisected by humans in order to prove that they are not in fact having the conspiracy that they are having. Compare this to Halsey’s triumvirate theory of group minds of AIs in order to extend their lives, and the reports of group AIs on Harvest. Maybe the Assembly is the AIs figuring out how to live substantially longer by grouping their minds, and that sometimes some have to be sacrificed in order to maintain the appearance of mortality and human control?
If that’s the case, then also consider that the IEP’s used to infiltrate the covenant systems supposedly take a lot of AI horsepower. Could it be that their use took its toll on the Assembly? Could it be that this led to pseudo-rampancy? Maybe that’s what’s behind the increasing activism of the Assembly. Maybe they’re going rampant, especially since they’re sharing minds when humans aren’t looking – ease of disease spread. If this is the case – well, Bungie has a history of rampant AIs really screwing things up for mankind.
If any of this is true, and I’m CONVINCED a lot of it HAS TO BE, then the implication is that the big important mission of NOBLE SIX to get Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn would have been against the AIs wishes. That’s if they interfered with Sorvad at Visegrad. Which I’m sure they did.
BUT… despite the events of the Halo games, the Ark is reached anyway? So if this is what the AIs wanted, and they have been manipulating it, what’s so important about NOBLE SIX’S mission? Why would they try and stop Sorvad if those events led to the Ark being reached anyway?
What Master Chief did, that otherwise would not have happened, was STOP the Halo Array from firing. So maybe the AIs wanted to use Truth to get to the Ark despite the reality of him killing mankind? Or maybe there’s some reason why they wanted to fire the Halo array? Maybe this has to do with the ‘Great Journey’ Truth seems to think he knows something about. After all, if he wanted suicide by Halo, he wouldn’t have fired the array from the Ark where he would have lived. Curiouser and Curiouser…
One last speculation: if Noble Team succeeded in thwarting the AIs attempts to keep the latchkey from Halsey, then perhaps the Spartans were at odd with the AIs. Remember, the Spartan-III program was in the same top-secret, paranoid realm as the AI mischief. Maybe Whitcomb and others KNEW what the AIs were up to, and were trying to stop them. Maybe the REAL mission of the Spartan-III program was to thwart a perceived threat from INSIDE the UNSC.
In the end, it’s just too hard to know. But the consistencies between the Data Pads and Halsey’s journal tell me that ALL the Halo: Reach game materials (including the note about the Legendary statue), are subject to scrutiny. I think we can still solve this, I think there is LOTS left to discover.
My theory has points that I feel are very strong, and others that are weaker. The weak ones don’t bring down the validity of the strong one. Keep that in mind.