After seeing this and this question, I wondered, what about so-called 'Smart' AIs in the HALO universe (i.e. Cortana, Kalmiya)?

Do these AIs have 'rights'? Apparently Dr. Halsey broke numerous laws in creating Cortana, but would she be breaking any laws if she were to destroy Cortana?

Since Smart AIs can think independently, what kind of limits are imposed on them? Obviously there are some constraints, as noted in Halo: Fall of Reach:

Cortana has the same mission parameters as you do. She will do anything necessary to make sure that your mission is accomplished.

But how are these constraints imposed?

In short, the question is: how close to humans are AIs considered, and what are their legal, moral, and ethical statuses in that universe?


I don't recall there being an explicit answer in the canon. As Foo Bar points out, Halo spends very little time on interpersonal ethical issues. We can infer some things, though.

Legal Status:

My memory is that the original Fall of Reach novelization implied in John's briefing that Cortana is government property. Given that the Spartans are practically government property themselves, it seems very plausible that the ephemeral copies of the brains of dead geniuses wouldn't themselves have more rights than any human soldiers. While their handlers, teammates, and students treat them as individuals, there's no evidence that the UNSC or ONI do. My memory of it is that John was told to treat Cortana like software, whose safe return had a lower priority than his mission. At least, in the original novelization, before Halo: Reach was released.

We would infer that the only laws that would be broken if someone had killed Cortana would have been destruction of government property.


Different sorts of permissions were instituted programmatically, it's likely that the same would be true for any limitations the UNSC or ONI wanted to impose on their AI. One of the relatively-recent animations made a reference to the Three Laws of Robotics, but it seemed more like the AI needed an override code to the reactor controls. (Incidentally, the UNSC needs to make reactors that are less prone to exploding.)

However, it seems like they didn't want to impose limitations on their AI. They gave their AI a lot of resources and a sandbox of sorts and let them go, in much the same way that some researchers get treated. Some reference to this is made in the original Fall of Reach novel, when Halsey breaks into the ONI facilities during the Covenant attack.

Ethical Status:

As for a discussion of the ethical treatment of AI, your best bet is actually Red Vs Blue. Being vague in order to avoid spoilers, but in the later seasons there's a pretty major plot arc about AI rights. RvB is obviously not Halo canon, but it is set in the Halo universe.

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The human-created AIs in Halo are afforded some freedom of action, but no legal rights. They have lifespan limits, overrides, and built-in ways to destroy them.

Remember, you're talking about a world government willing to kidnap, brainwash, and surgically modify children for use as soldiers. Civil rights are not a priority in Halo.

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  • That's nice, but do you have any source at all for that or is that just your speculative opinion? – The Fallen Aug 3 '14 at 16:29
  • SS, I included links, and I haven't seen any references to AI "rights" in Halo canon. Unless someone from MS/Bungie makes an official statement, absence of evidence is the best you're going to get. – Foo Bar Aug 3 '14 at 19:59
  • a "lifespan limit", a product of their very existence and not something under anyone's control does not support any assertion to their rights one way or another. And the fact that there are built-in ways to destroy them doesn't mean anything, as there were ways to do that to certain valuable UNSC operatives as well. – The Fallen Aug 3 '14 at 20:14

AI’s are usually nothing more than property, highly sophisticated computer constructs, but material property nonetheless. There are, however, two instances in which an AI goes to court and therefore are giving the "right" to a fair trial, just as a true sentient being would.

The first one was the Contender-class Forerunner ancilla Mendicant Bias (MB), during the Forerunner/Flood war, MB is given full command of the Forerunner fleets and tasked with defeating the parasite, MB betrays the Forerunner, after becoming infected with "The Logic Plague", and joins the Flood. The Forerunner then commissioned Offensive Bias (OB), a Metarch-level IA with the sole task of defeating MB. MB is defeated and "he" is sent to trial where he is, of course, found guilty of treason.

The second instance involves the UNSC's military-grade AI known as Iona; right before "she" is about to be decommissioned, she sues, and claims that she has become a true sentient being and thus, should be given the right to continue her existence. She makes several arguments in hopes of proving her sentience and the jury seems to agree with her.

In the case of Mendicant Bias, in what is essentially a malfunctioning computer being sent trail, is interestingly enough, but it was nothing more than a conclusion to a far larger tell. On the other hand, the case of Iona, the Halo writers are definitely addressing the ethical questions of whether an AI is considered a true living being or nothing more than material property by dedicating an entire story to the subject.

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  • 2
    but there's a twist at the end! But you'll have to read the book if you want to find out. Asking someone to read a text when providing an answer is counter productive. If you don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it, you should include the details under spoiler markdown. – Edlothiad Jun 2 '18 at 10:14

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