Halo: Saint’s Testimony
Another one in the “books I’ve gotten for free” category, though in this case it was because I had a $1 credit on my Amazon account and the book was $0.99.1
I definitely would’ve bought the book anyways, though, because I’m far more of a fan of the Halo lore than I should be willing to admit, and this one was about an AI, so how could I resist?
Because, you see, I’m a total sucker for AI in any mythos. I love it, I love people exploring the interactions between humanity and the intelligences that they create. It’s a spectacular moral gray area, one that we really desperately need to explore now, before we’re living in one of those stories.
And so here come my issues with this book.2
First, the historical aspect: it’s set in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant War, which places it solidly in the late 26th century. The UNSC’s brand of sentient AI, Smart AIs, were first built in the late 21st century. Which means that, somehow, human society made it half a millenia without a single AI going to court and suing for personhood. It took, what, 200 years between the creation of American Sign Language, it being taught to apes, and then apes being granted personhood in a variety of jurisdictions? And in five hundred years, not a single one of the super intelligent beings manufactured, in essence, by uploading a dead human brain into the cloud tried to prove they were a person?
That aside, there’s some continuity issues that’ve been starting to crop up in the past few books, and this one really brought those to the forefront, in my mind.3 The way AIs function in the Halo universe doesn’t seem to be all too clearly set in the minds of the writers. Back when the series first started, Cortana was the best example of an AI, and she was basically a human mind, running super fast. Sure, it was a very analytical, probably sociopathic human mind, but a human mind nonetheless. She was wrapped up in different programs, which allowed her to control her appearance and interface with different systems, but still a human mind. Copying herself wasn’t an innate ability, but one she picked up while digging around in a Covenant system.45 Now, it appears that all the Smart AIs the UNSC is using are capable of the same feat, and quite a few other manners of thinking that simply aren’t possible for human minds.
I mean, yes, there’s an argument to be made that there’s been a lot of development going on in the field of Artificial Intelligence, but I’m going to go ahead and cite that ‘500 years’ figure again. A technological leap of that size over the space of a couple years simply isn’t realistic when they’ve had 500 years with access to the same technology and not made one notable improvement.
Alright I’m going to stop now, because I’m being a bit too much of an obsessive fan here and it’s starting to creep me out. Expect a couple more Halo books being reviewed soon – I got a pile of ‘em for Christmas and I’m just now starting into those.
- I wonder if they’re going to leave the $0.01 credit on my account? It wasn’t a gift card, it was a “thanks for choosing the cheap shipping option, Prime Customer!” thing. ↩
- Well, ‘novella’ might be a more accurate term, considering that it was written purely for e-reader and it’s also a novella length. ↩
- There were different ones that were bugging me in the other books – namely, the fact that all of humanity suddenly had access to instantaneous galaxy-spanning communications equipment at the end of the Human-Covenant War. Sure, Forerunner tech and all that, but the time between “finding the relevant Forerunner tech” and “our own version has been implemented everywhere” was… really short. ↩
- Which still has a few unanswered questions, to my mind – the weird AI running around in those systems, was that some ancient Forerunner ancilla, or a human AI that’d been captured a while ago and gone very uniquely rampant? ↩
- And yes, I am enough of a nerd that I just used the canon-accurate term “ancilla” for a Forerunner AI. ↩