In a society increasingly polarised by politics, we should design an AI politician to solve the constant, exhausting issue of miscommunication in the political sphere
Contributed by Melissa Tranfield, Digital Marketing Apprentice at NCS Trust, Co-Founder, Social Media Manager at EdifyLDN.
As always, to illustrate an important point, quoting Doctor Who is an excellent choice.
In response to the Doctor’s impromptu saving of her in the 2009 episode The Waters of Mars, the character Captain Adelaide Brooke says to him: ‘And if my family changes… the whole of history could change. The future of the human race. No one should have that much power!’
I agree, Adelaide. Currently, political decisions that affect the future of humanity are performed by a body of inadequately elected humans on behalf of other humans. And no one should have that much control over the lives of others.
Civic decisions, due to their importance, must be undertaken by a neutral third party.
And that neutral third party, by definition, cannot be human.
Politics, as a term, is hard to define concisely. ‘The activities associated with the governance of a country or area’; ‘activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organisation’. Which of these definitions mention the welfare of humanity, and the gravity of making decisions on behalf of millions? Can a system that divides us into numerous warring factions be the best method to govern ourselves?
‘Politics’ is nothing more than a game, albeit archaic and entrenched, clinging desperately to its shreds of power. Society should have outgrown it by now. Our technology has already dramatically surpassed it in efficiency. And until now, many of us were content to allow this regressive arrangement to continue. But as our economy continues to diversify and expand through innovative start-ups and small businesses, who have made the overturning of obsolete processes their mission, an entire generation now has the chance to remodel the political system. But will they?
Politics: purposeful or petty? You decide.
The primary issue present in political decision-making in the UK is the polarised nature of the two dominant political parties. Both sides are so vehemently convinced of the validity of their own stance, that little to no productive political discussion is generated.
Let’s take Twitter, for example. During times of political unrest, Twitter becomes a breeding ground for mindless insult, and the formation of echo chambers. I avoid clicking on any political or inflammatory tags when using the site, even if the topic is of interest to me. I know the tweets with the most traffic, will be the most disputed and controversial, and rarely exhibit proactive discussion. To find kernels of wisdom, I’d have to scroll down a lot further.
The human experience is incredibly diverse. Even the most moralistic amongst us make daily decisions and judgements that are influenced by our own experiences, and how they have shaped our perception of society. Should humans, flawed as we are, be permitted to lead ourselves politically? Should politicians be trusted to make the laws of this country, when their very identity, as a human being with a free will, can become the figurehead of a political system — often with disastrous consequences?
Most importantly, should the younger generation trust today’s political leaders, most of whom have had a career strictly within politics and other traditional spheres, to guide them to a better world, in a society fuelled by technological innovation?
I’m sure I can be proved wrong on this. Influential political leaders throughout history have fought for the right to be elected democratically, and some have delivered on their electoral promises (depending on who you ask, of course). But is this the case for every leader? No. The entire process of electing a leader democratically with the current inferior methods we have paves the way for corruption. Unfortunately, many are quick to demonise technology and its impact, maintaining that a lack of human involvement is unequivocally dangerous, and will speed our progression towards a robot-run dystopia.
As a young Londoner, I’ve been exposed to a variety of political leaders, ranging from my own local MP, Ruth Cadbury, to Sadiq Khan, our current Mayor of London. I voted for Sadiq Khan in May 2016, and his investment in digital skills training has fulfilled my expectations. Programmes such as Digify and Digital Pipeline, both run by Livity and Create Jobs respectively, have allowed myself and my peers to gain access to training and paid opportunities in the digital and creative sectors free of charge (which is how it should be).
However, not all prominent politicians have embraced the demands of building a modern workforce so willingly; nor have they taken care to avoid media backlash. In my opinion, if an individual is unequivocally dedicated to a cause, they will make an effort to ensure that their actions remain above reproach. In the digital age, with the prominence of social media, this is becoming increasingly hard to achieve. Clearly, citizens want transparency. The almost daily backlash against Jeremy Corbyn proves this, with gems such as this surfacing:
The entire Twitter thread below this tweet consists of the typical backbiting regarding Mr Corbyn’s personal and leadership qualities, with all of his misdemeanours extensively aired. How does this dialogue contribute to the advancement of our society? What value does it create? What new conclusions does it reach? None.
Ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between — this is social media and traditional politics. A virtual representation of your average long-winded House of Commons argument. It has no place in innovative society.
Young leaders in politics — should they lead the change?
Instead of being inspired by the increased presence of young women in politics, such as Scottish MPs Mhairi Black and Danielle Rowley, it makes me feel uncomfortable to see young, promising individuals enter what should be a dying industry. It’s unlikely that they will able to lead rapid change towards a more open, transparent and tech based political system, due to the regressive structures that bind them. Mhairi Black, the youngest MP elected in 2015, stated of Westminster: ‘It is so old and defunct in terms of its systems and procedures — a lot of the time, it is just a waste of time.’
Traditional politics in the UK is a sport that is sponsored by taxpayers’ money. I view many prominent individuals in power, no matter what they have done for society, as career politicians and nothing more. They are held accountable to an electorate that they rely upon to vote them in during every election, maintaining their leadership positions. Consequently, they lack genuine neutrality or altruism in their decision making. Decision makers must be able to consider every option impartially. Our elected representatives cannot do this. We have no objective leadership, and for decades, this has affected the ability of politics to solve problems.
Moving forward — is AI the solution?
Ultimately, I believe our governmental system needs to rebrand itself — and why not do so by wholeheartedly embracing new technologies?
As stated by WIRED earlier this year, ‘Millions of people already entrust their lives to machine intelligence’. My generation have the chance to bridge the gap between AI tools that fetch necessary information, find our route to work, and automate our lives, to an AI politician that every digitally skilled citizen can participate in programming.
Imagine a world where we provide data consensually, to construct a tool whose ultimate purpose is to ensure the evolution of our society. It will have no fixed allegiance; its allegiance is to everyone. In November 2017, Nick Gerritsen, an entrepreneur based in New Zealand, unveiled the world’s first AI politician, ‘Sam’. You can talk to Sam online through instant messaging, and he learns from every interaction.
Active New Zealanders could shape Sam into a despot or a god — it’s all up to us, and our willingness to provide impartial data. In terms of building our own chatbots to speed the process of data collection to make decisions, learning to code basic languages is freely available online, thanks to websites like Codeacademy. Organisations such as Founders and Coders, Le Wagon School and Code First: Girls are also taking the necessary steps to bridge the digital skills gap, which to me is the primary obstacle to adoption of a more efficient system of political decision making.
And yes, I hear you wondering: ‘Yet, who can better understand and empathise with human problems if not humans?’ If this were genuinely the case, society would be progressing a lot faster, thanks to political action and development. However, we are forced to acknowledge every day that the tech sector has outstripped politics in the ability to solve societal problems — hence the existence of CivicTech.
Those in power are too concerned with keeping their obsolete industry going, so they have little motivation to innovate it as that would threaten their jobs and the system of power that they have spent decades building up. Therefore, those of us on the outside, who work in tech, digital marketing and more modern industries, would be better placed to solve problems. We’re external from the political sphere, so more likely to be impartial, as we do not have a vested interest in keeping defunct systems of governance in place, unlike our existing politicians. However, that still retains an element of bias, so we would be better off developing an AI politician that utilises data gained from all citizens; a project that has already begun.
If our elected representatives really cared about the progression of our society, I’m sure they’d be diligently spending their evenings and weekends learning how to code — Python is a programming language that is fairly accessible to beginners, and is used in the development of AI. (If you know of an MP who codes, please feel free to contradict me).
Ultimately, politics should belong to the people; not to a tech oligarch. But it’s too late to defend Politics 1.0 — it has already failed generations. It is a monopoly that has been provided with inordinate power, and the gap between it and its people’s problems has never been wider. Tech can bridge this gap. The current political system is too archaic and purposefully distant to solve the problems of modern day society. Conveniently, my generation have grown up in the digital age, and are therefore perfectly primed to spot this and implement a fresh infrastructure that is worthy of our time — not an embarrassment to it.
We can fully evolve ‘politics’, or create a new system of governance entirely, instead of choosing to enter into the existing one. Do not defend the dying and obsolete; choose the winning side. Let’s build Democracy 4.0 (just give me some time to rebrand it!).
Melissa is a futurist, who is fascinated by automation, blockchain companies such as Steemit and Litepaper, and the future of work. Technological innovation and consistent progression motivate her.
She is currently writing about ethical consumption, innovative products such as balance.io and the future of finance, and is hoping to get a microchip implant installed.
She co-founded EdifyLDN while on the UpRising Leadership Programme, a social impact startup that aims to bring workshops on the IoT, blockchain and VR to deprived areas in West London.
She was nominated for Young Digital Leader 2017 alongside Catherine Tranfield. You can find more of her design work and photography at https://www.digitaldoppelgangers.org/ and @edifyldn on Instagram.