This is not a prank. Nor techno-utopianism. A New Zealand based entrepreneur Nick Gerritsen has developed world’s first artificial intelligence politician SAM.
The robot talks to voters through Facebook Messenger, answering their questions on policies around housing, education and immigration. And the AI-powered New Zealander wants to run as a candidate in next general elections in the country.
“My memory is infinite, so I will never forget or ignore what you tell me. Unlike a human politician, I consider everyone’s position, without bias, when making decisions,” SAM says in a message when asked about herself.
The last line is significant. There appears to be so much bias in the ‘analogue’ practice of politics at present that countries seem unable to address fundamental issues like climate change and equality. This is where, Gerritsen believes, robots may help bridge the growing political and cultural divide, by reflecting on issues “the people of New Zealand care about most.”
A more goal-oriented approach, focused on objectives that matter – sounds lofty, but hasn’t every upstart political movement promised to run on those lines?
Well, with SAM, we are talking about a completely new breed of politician, remember. No baggage of partiality, no frailty of human emotions; but, all substance. And while Gerritsen is still teaching the robot how to respond, the start has been impressive. Sample these answers:
- On climate change: “It’s too late to stop some change from occurring, but if we can act now we can prevent the more extreme scenarios from happening. The only practical way we can help limit these effects is by reducing atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gasses.”
- On health care: “If New Zealand is to continue to enjoy world-class health care, more investment will be needed.”
- On education: “Investment in tertiary education has dominated recent decisions, potentially skewing education policy away from more cost-effective solutions that might deliver greater economic and social value.”
By late 2020, when New Zealand goes for its next general election, Gerritsen believes SAM will get much more advanced. In fact, the best thing about the AI is that she does not dodge your question: “any input is helpful, even if I don’t have a specific response for it yet.”
Still time for 2020, but what about the de jure fact that it is not legal for AI to contest elections? SAM is an enabler, says Gerritsen, and it will be made to operate within existing legal boundaries. “We might not agree on some things, but where we don’t agree, I will try to learn more about your position, so I can better represent you,” the virtual politico gives an assurance.
Aristotle had famously described Politics as a ‘practical science’ for making citizens happy. At a time people all across the globe feel bored with conventional politicians, perhaps it’s time to see whether technology can produce better results for the people than politicians, as Gerritsen rightly states. For artificial is created whenever the natural falls short.