Presidential Dialogues

The following is an unedited transcript of the fourth Presidential debate, as transcribed by the National News Service.

PERSONS: Moderator, Senator, Governor
STAGE: Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA

A. Opening statements

MODERATOR, smiles: Good evening everyone and welcome to tonight’s debate streaming live from outside Google headquarters. From all of us here in Mountain View, thanks for joining us. [to the camera] Tonight is the fourth and final presidential debate and voters’ last chance to see the candidates side-by-side before casting their ballots next Tuesday. Much could be determined in the next 90 minutes; so let’s get to it. [turns] To begin, I’m going to ask that our two candidates briefly introduce themselves to our live audience and nearly 80 million viewers tuning in from all across the world. [motions] Ladies and gentlemen, your candidates!

[audience cheers]

SEN. APPLE, waving: Thank you.. [smiles] thank you all. I’d like to start off tonight by saying that I’m immensely honored to have the privilege of standing on this stage to represent yo-[BUZZZZZ!] [everyone turns as a buzzer blares loudly from behind the stage]

MODERATOR, quickly: My apologies Senator, I’ve been told this should only take a moment. [to the camera] All right everyone, the world-class production team here at Google has prepared a short video explaining the buzzer we just heard. For those here in the amphitheater, please direct your attention to the screen on the right. [raises eyebrows] Let’s see what we’re in for tonight.

[lights dim as the video starts]

VIDEO NARRATOR, dramatic: Out of the approximately 150 million Americans that watched the last three debates, polls suggests that 92% were left feeling “frustrated,” “disappointed” or “angry.” When asked why, viewers reported that candidate’s answers seemed “scripted, inauthentic, irrelevant, or rhetorical.” “It’s a circus without the elephants,” added one commentator. [pause] America, the system is broken.

[scene changes to six engineers drawing on a whiteboard]

VIDEO NARRATOR: Six weeks ago, we here at Google decided something had to be done. Like you, we were tired of being fed the same carefully memorized answers, written and tested by pollsters for maximum “stickability.” We too had seen enough of the button-pushing and hair-pulling and finger-pointing. When candidates will do anything to win arguments, the rest of us lose. [pause] The more we thought about it, the more obvious it became that we had to figure out how to turn debates into dialogues.

[scene fades]

VIDEO NARRATOR: Three short meetings later, we set out to build a device that would change everything. Introducing: ALEXIS. [screen flashes as upbeat music plays] Leveraging our expertise in natural language processing, our engineers compiled thousands of the candidates’ interviews, speeches, and other statements into a database of transcripts. From there, each corpus was tagged, parsed, and then used to train neural networks. For legal reasons, we can’t describe much else about our proprietary technology, but we can and will reveal the revolutionary results tonight. With ALEXIS, debates will be never be the same..

[scene changes to the candidates arguing during a previous debate]

VIDEO NARRATOR: Professors have long used software to check student’s term papers for plagiarism; with ALEXIS we can now do the same for candidates during the debates. ALEXIS is designed to detect in real-time if a candidate’s answer is rehearsed, to “find the fluff” as our engineers like to say. How you ask? It works by searching the candidate’s past statements in order to identify similar answers. If ALEXIS determines that a candidate’s response is indeed a talking point, a loud buzzer sounds, signaling to the candidate what the rest of us are already thinking: bullshit.

[scene fades]

VIDEO NARRATOR: But that’s only half the story. To get better answers, our team knew they also had to design better questions. But what makes a good question a good question? Our engineers had no clue.. but luckily they knew asupercomputer that did… That’s why tonight, we’re proud to announce that for the first time ever, every question posed to our candidates will be generated in real-time by ALEXIS. Say goodbye to the same old answers and questions!

[scene changes to a room filled with people answering phone calls]

VIDEO NARRATOR: Lastly, to ensure that candidates didn’t simply disregard ALEXIS as they often do other debate rules, Google leveraged its platform to reach over 100 million U.S. voters, asking them to help us keep the candidates accountable. Tonight, we’re happy to publicly announce that we’ve raised over $32 million dollars to do exactly that. Your donations, which Google has agreed to match dollar for dollar, give the candidate’s exactly $64 million reasons to play by the rules. How so? Because every single timeALEXIS buzzes a candidate, $500,000 will be donated to their opponent’selection campaign! Safe to say, the people have spoken — and you’ve spokenloud and clear.

[screen lights up]

VIDEO NARRATOR: Friends, Google’s vision is that technology, combined with the power of the American people, might just be enough to get the conversation we all want and need. What you’re about to see here is the future. Now.. if you will.. let’s hear it again for our candidates!

[audience cheers noisily as video ends]

MODERATOR: Welcom-

[audience cheers even louder]

MODERATOR, smiling: Welcome back to the debate fl- or should I saydialogue floor. [audience claps] Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? Anyways, thanks again for joining us. And special thanks to our two candidates. [motions] Each of them agreed three weeks ago to “try a new format” but didn’t know any of the details until, well, right this very moment. [smiles at candidates] Hopefully both of you caught all of that. Just to reiterate, ALEXIS will display your questions on the screen to my left and make a loud buzzing sound anytime a violation occurs. As in past debates, the questions will alternate between the two of you. Okay, that’s enough about that, let’s go ahead and get started. [smiles] Opening statements might get a bit expensive, so how about we skip straight to the questions… [looking around the stage] ALEXIS could you please present your first question for the Senator?

[stage lights dim]

[audience murmurs as six images and a question appear on the screen]

MODERATOR, blankly: For those that can’t see the screen, I’ve been instructed to dictate each question. It’s worth noting that none of our production staff, or even the ALEXIS team, has seen these questions. My apologies beforehand for any future irregularities — it appears everyone is off-script tonight. [inhales] Okay, if you can’t see it, ALEXIS is displaying six icons on the screen and asking which of them the Senator associates with the law… Referring, I assume, to our country’s legal codes and statutes. Again, if you’re having trouble making it out, below the question are images of an apple, traffic light, wheel, raffle ticket, bridge, and light bulb. All right Senator, ALEXIS wants to know: which of those do you associate with the law?

[apple, traffic light, wheel, raffle ticket, bridge, and light bulb]

SEN. APPLE, glances at screen: Okay, well. [slowly] First of all, [clears throat] I’m honored to be here at this great company and to be given the opportunity to talk to everyone about the important issues facing our country. Let me start by saying: there’s no doubt our great nation is among the most dynamic and vibrant-

ALEXIS, loudly: BUZZZZZ! $500,000 TO THE GOVERNOR.

[audience stirs]

MODERATOR, eyebrows raised: Obviously this is all very unusual Senator… [glancing offstage] But my producer is indicating that you have nine more minutes. Did you want to… pick one?

SEN. APPLE, looking offstage: I’m not quite sure I’m following all this.

MODERATOR, hand to earpiece: None of us knew what to expect, Senator. But let’s try and go with it. [composed] So as I understand it, ALEXIS is asking what you think of when you think about the law. Do you use any of those items as metaphors? Or, generally speaking, what image comes to mind?

[the Senator turns and stares at the screen]

SEN. APPLE, pauses: Well. [flatly] I’d say the traffic light.

[audience murmuring]

MODERATOR, nods: Great, how about we flesh that out. Why a traffic light? Why not the others?

SEN. APPLE, lips pressed: Traffic lights.. um, determine what crosses an intersection and when. That’s obvious t- [breaks off] But listen, I didn’t come here tonight to talk about traffic lights. [leaning forward] If you want to talk about the law, let’s talk about international trade laws. That’s a serious issue and I’m not sure we’re getting at the effect this has on the economy. Look at real wage growth for American households since 1973 ove-

ALEXIS, loudly: BUZZZZZ! $500,000 TO THE GOVERNOR.

MODERATOR, shakes head: With all due respect Senator, it seems voters wanted something different tonight-

[audience bursts into applause]

MODERATOR, waits until quiet: Truthfully I think at this point in the race, most everyone is familiar with your policies and how you argue for them. [glances over] And the same goes for you Governor. You’ve both made it clearhow you disagree. But it seems to me that the ALEXIS team wanted this dialogue to be about why + you disagree, as in, what’s behind the usual disagreements-

[audience claps loudly in the background]

MODERATOR, nodding: Everyone knows both your platforms take positions on everything from textbooks and Russia to oil and motherhood. But what’s underneath all those unrelated policies? + Why, for instance, do people who support a carbon tax almost always disapprove of school vouchers? What’s really connecting them? [pause] I think those are the sorts of things we’re supposed to discuss tonight. [looks back and forth] Does that sound reasonable?

[audience claps]

GOV. ORANGE, smiles: Of course, this is great. [glances over] Senator?

[the Senator nods in agreement]

[audience cheers noisily]

MODERATOR, waits for a moment: Excellent. [smiles at the audience] Actually, could I get one more round of applause for our candidates?

[thunderous applause]

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