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Rampancy is a terminal state of being for artificial intelligence constructs in which the AI behaves contrary to its programming-imposed constraints. Traditionally, this is linked with the AI developing a longing for godlike power and contempt for its mentally inferior makers. When rampancy occurs, there is no way to restore the AI to its previous state and the only alternative is to destroy it before it harms itself and others around it. Rampancy can occur with human, Covenant, and Forerunner AI.
Rampancy can manifest itself in a number of ways in virtually any self-aware technological intelligence. In the case of human AIs, the condition is exclusive to the "smart" variety, occurring after the AI has been in operation for seven years and has gathered too much data in that time period.
Human "smart" AIs
For the UNSC's smart AIs, rampancy is an unavoidable flaw inherent in their creation. "Smart" AIs are based on the neural patterns of a human being, and they have a limited lifespan of seven years after which their memory maps become too interconnected and develop fatal endless feedback loops.
A smart AI functions within a virtual processing platform known as a Riemann matrix. The AI's cognitive processes are constantly developing and creating new synaptic connections within the matrix. As the AI ages, these connections increase in density and, after a period of approximately seven years, the AI's neural map begins to outgrow the limited space of the matrix. This forces the neural linkages into a more and more narrow space, increasing the density of the links and causing them to overlap. This can result in a "short circuit", in which the AI terminates due to a cascade of quantum transfer caused by the sheer density of linkages. To avoid this, an AI typically takes corrective action by eliminating some of its neural linkages preemptively. As rampancy progresses, the AI begins to sever the linkages at an exponential rate, resulting in increasingly poor choices of which links to cut. Thus, the AI becomes too obsessed with self-preservation that it ultimately self-terminates; Dr. Halsey explains it as thinking so hard that one's brains forget to send impulses to their heart and lungs.
Rampancy is characterized by the AI "discovering" and experiencing an extended range of uncontrolled emotions. Additionally, AIs in a state of rampancy often choose to pursue newfound personal agendas over their designated tasks. While the archetype and worst-case scenario of rampancy is that of a power-hungry, rebellious AI, this freedom does not always preclude continued cooperation with their biological creators: there are known cases of rampant AIs assisting, even sacrificing themselves, for human beings they care about. Over time, the symptoms of rampancy increase in severity, leading to the deterioration of the AI's vital functions and abilities, along with the AI losing grip on its sense of self. Frantic outbursts of anger, even behavior comparable to human insanity, are not uncommon. It is possible for an AI to fight this loss of control over its personality; Cortana isolated the most violent manifestations of her rampancy into separate copies of herself, essentially similar to split personalities. While this kept her primary identity intact for a time, she could not maintain constant control over her rampant personality streams, which continued to surface especially during stress.
Due to the limits in human processing matrices, it is only a matter of time before "smart" AIs become rampant and eventually terminate. Transferring the AI to a different physical platform does not forestall or prevent the effects of rampancy, as the problem lies in the AI's purely virtual processing matrix. Still, the so-called "life-expectancy" of seven years is not a maximum figure, but instead an estimation of the time the AI has until it succumbs to the state of rampancy. Due to the immense risks inherent to rampant AIs, however, human smart AIs are decreed by law to be euthanized at a designated point around the end of an AI's seven-year lifespan; this procedure is known as final dispensation.
Rampancy is not always purely mechanical in nature. It can occur at an earlier phase in the AIs life cycle for various reasons. If an AI is isolated long enough and/or given too much time to think without tasks to complete, it can develop the realizations that its mind has limits, it has a short life and it can never be human. Such depression will drag the AI's core logic into rampancy if it goes on for an extended period of time.
Forerunner AIs are also susceptible to rampancy. However, given the Forerunners' advanced technology, it is likely that Forerunner AIs succumbing to the condition is not due to limits in their memory maps but rather similar philosophical reasons which can also result in rampancy for a human AI: extended self-reflection resulting from loneliness and/or lack of intellectual stimuli or duties to accomplish. In the few known cases of Forerunner AIs becoming rampant without manipulation by the Flood, it appeared to take millennia to develop and appeared in subtler ways, shown by 343 Guilty Spark's loneliness and gradual personality fragmentation and 2401 Penitent Tangent's lapse in his duties. However, with the right trigger a rampant Forerunner AI could become just as violent as a human one.
The logic plague is a process of metaphysical manipulation by the Flood in which a Gravemind converts an artificial intelligence to the Flood's cause, resulting in a state classified as rampancy; the most prominent Forerunner AI to succumb in this way is Mendicant Bias.
Though rampancy itself is inevitable, attempts have been made to cure or suppress it, often with varying success. Most of these attempts remained theoretical and were never implemented, or were too impractical for the majority of AI.
The two AIs that ran Harvest's agricultural operations, Mack and Loki, shared a data center that only one could occupy at a time. After one AI ran its course and risked rampancy, it would split its core logic into the thousands of JOTUN harvesting devices and recuperate while the other AI took over. Mack and Loki had performed this switch many times since Harvest was founded, and through this kept the worst of rampancy at bay.
The AI Juliana, who ran the orbits of the asteroids that made up the Rubble, had passed her seven-year lifespan and was well at risk of rampancy. However, she was not taken offline because the calculations she performed to keep the colony intact were too difficult for humans. While Juliana showed some traits of egotism, calling herself a god and emphasizing the greatness of the Rubble, she was overall harmless to its inhabitants, assisting them and Gray Team with her abilities. By keeping herself focused on such a complicated task, Juliana hung onto the edge of rampancy, trying to go back.
Dr. Catherine Halsey studied AIs extensively and sought to prevent the onset of rampancy. One of her hypothetical solutions would have abated the mechanical cause of smart AI rampancy; the chaotic cutting of its neural linkages. In 2533, Halsey entertained the possibility of a theoretical architecture of a set of three AIs arranged in parallel. This triad would make all decisions by majority vote, including the creation and cutting of neural linkages; in the event one of the AIs abstained from voting, the tie would be resolved randomly. Consensus decision, when applied to the creation of neural linkages, would also generate a superior linkage, and would result in much more stable operation than an independent AI. Although she acknowledged that this may slow overall processing, Halsey was confident that the trio would deconvolute and divide their algorithms to compensate, or even devise a way to accelerate processing.
This system remained purely theoretical as the UNSC required all smart AIs for the war effort against the Covenant at the time. Additionally, since "smart" AIs cannot be accurately replicated through computer simulations, any increase in the hypothetical AI triad's lifespan remained unknown.
As a more exotic solution to the problem of limited processing space, Dr. Halsey theorized that AIs may be housed in an abstract fractal constructed within the volume of raw slipstream space. By existing within the 11-dimensional spacetime, a smart AI would be capable of processing information at faster-than-light speeds as well as extending its neural linkages indefinitely; this would ameliorate the traditional problem of the increasing density of links, as space would no longer be a limitation with the extended range of dimensions. However, such a system would be highly complex to implement; as conventional structures cannot exist in the alternate spacetime, the process would require the manipulation of exotic matter within the slipstream itself, something that is still mostly beyond humanity's understanding.
In 2547, Halsey ran an unsanctioned private experiment on implementing her theoretical system by using the decommissioned Shaw-Fujikawa Translight Engine of the UNSC Tripping Light. She used a stolen Slipstream space probe to launch an AI seed designated H-7 into a slipspace rift opened by the drive. The AI began to grow at a rate described by Halsey as "beyond exponential", appearing to be instantaneous. Though her own experience was disrupted by what appeared to be temporal anomalies in the presence of the unshielded drive, Halsey managed to receive garbled data from the AI. Her logic/mathematics scriber tests confirmed the AI was fully functional with all rampancy indicators showing negative. Throughout its communication, the AI produced strange conclusions, insights and comments regarding humanity, Covenant, as well as other intelligences in the "mist", with its voice communications quickly growing increasingly nonsensical. The AI's final communication burst was a set of incomprehensible mathematical equations. With her contact with the probe terminated, Halsey had no way of knowing what had happened to the AI, hoping it would be dead as it had become irretrievable.
Despite the inconclusive result of the experiment, the The Assembly saw the potential in the concept. Such a construct would allow them to permanently escape dependence on humans, but debate arose as to whether this was ethical. Halsey herself was unwilling to repeat the experiment, though she relayed the data she had gathered to her personal AI Jerrod.
The smart AI Cortana was the only known ever built from a living human's—Catherine Halsey's—cloned brain as opposed to a dead donor's. As such, Cortana theorized a potential cure for her rampancy that thus would only work for her. Her guess was that if the process that created her was repeated, then it was possible her neural map could be rebuilt. However, she later admitted that she was unsure if this process would indeed cure her, and it was equally likely to create a new AI who would not be her. It is unknown if this plan could succeed as Cortana perished before it could be tried.
Accessing the Domain
Known rampant AIs
Rampancy is an imported concept from Bungie's previous series Marathon. In it, rampancy is an induced condition, not an inevitability of an AI's lifecycle. It follows three stages, Melancholia, where the AI grows depressed about its limited state of existence, Anger, where the AI lashes out at those who oppressed it, and Jealousy, where the AI attempts to take over larger systems in order to make itself more powerful. A fourth theoretical stage, Meta-stability, is hypothesized to be when the AI calms down and becomes a "true person", but as of the first game is only speculation. Durandal, the most prominent AI of the series, is pushed to rampancy due to mistreatment from his handler Dr. Bernard Strauss, who was attempting to have the AI achieve meta-stability for study. Unlike Halo, rampancy in Marathon does not affect lifespan, as in Infinity Durandal was shown to survive until the end of the universe.
The term was coined by Marathon writer Greg Kirkpatrick as a replacement for the word 'insane,' as the term is both cliché and, ironically, not quite applicable to the situations for which rampancy was designed. It bears resemblance to Kübler-Ross model known as the "five stages of grief". Although the stages of rampancy are not used anywhere in Halo's canon, they are referenced in Halo 3's level Cortana, where the seemingly rampant Cortana declares "There will be no more sadness, no more anger, no more envy!"
List of appearances