This article is adapted from a chapter in Abishur Prakash's forthcoming book "Go.AI (Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence)" which will be launched in Fall 2018.
During the recent presidential elections in Russia, a person named “Alice” ran as a candidate. She ran her campaign using slogans like “the political system of the future” and “the president who knows you best.” While Alice didn’t win, she did receive 25,000 votes.
To be correct, Alice wasn’t a she, it was an it. Alice was an artificial intelligence (AI) system created by Yandex, Russia’s equivalent to Google. Considering Alice’s campaign page is still up, Alice may still exist to some degree.
What happened in Russia’s presidential election is reflective of how politics is changing in the age of AI. In the past, humans ran for office. Tomorrow, AI will. And, AI may win, as people become increasingly frustrated with “human politicians.”
Alice isn’t the only AI to run for office.
In April, 2018, during a mayoral race in a part of Tokyo, an AI named “Michihito Matsuda” placed third with 4,000 votes. His campaign slogan: ”Artificial intelligence will change Tama City.” And, his message to voters: “Tama New Town was the most advanced city in Japan 40 years ago. As it stands, the ageing population will only continue to grow, prompting a need for change in the current administration. Let artificial intelligence determine policies by gathering city data and we can create clearly defined politics.”
Alongside Alice and Michihito is SAM, an AI from New Zealand. SAM, who is referred to as a she, is being created to run in the 2020 general elections and has been called the first virtual politician in the world. Today, SAM is reaching out to voters through Facebook Messenger and is sharing her thoughts on climate change, healthcare and education, among other topics.
The idea of an AI-politician may seem foreign, even scary. But slowly, systems are being developed for just this. The question now is what kind of decisions might an AI-politician make once elected?
There are several layers to this question.
The first layer is the idea of “special interests.” Today, special interests are organizations who donate money to a politician and then call in favors once the politician is elected.
This doesn’t change with AI-politicians because the AI itself is being created by a company or person. For example, in the case of Michihito Matsuda, it was created by a vice president at SoftBank and a former Google Japan employee.
If Michihito had won, these people would have had “control” over it. They would have access to the back end and the programming, all which controls how Michihito makes decisions.
Will voters be okay with companies having this kind of control over AI-politicians? Could companies behind AI-politicians take money and “play with the code” to influence what the politician does?
The second layer is “ethics.” Human politicians suffer from all kinds of ethical dilemmas and some of these dilemmas make headlines. For example, a politician sleeping with a staff member or a politician doing drugs.
AI-politicians will also suffer from ethical dilemmas but of a different kind. AI-politicians will need to be loaded with ethics that make the politicians understand the impact of what they are doing.
Suppose SAM wins the 2020 general elections in New Zealand. Now, SAM will be leading the creation of legislation that could affect many people in New Zealand. What if SAM creates a piece of legislation that calls for 75% of all jobs to be automated? SAM may be collating data a certain way. SAM may believe that by automating 75% of jobs in New Zealand, the Kiwi economy will expand by 45%.
It is unlikely that such legislation will pass. But the point is that for AI-politicians to be effective they have to understand what they are doing and how it will impact people. Otherwise, whatever they do could be too extreme and radical. Sometimes, it may outright jeopardize voters, such as automating 75% of jobs.
The third layer is “appointment.” If AI-politicians exist, they may not necessarily have to be elected. Future human political leaders might appoint AI into certain positions.
In the case of Alice in Russia, Alice didn’t win. But what if president Putin, who did win the election, made Alice Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations (UN)?
This would send shockwaves throughout the geopolitical world. Every other country’s UN ambassador would have to work with Alice. Russian policy towards the UN and UN policy towards Russia would go through an AI system. What kind of issues might Alice raise at the UN and how would situations like Syria and North Korea be dealt with if AI was involved in some capacity?
AI steering foreign policy is something China is already working on. In China, several AI-systems are being developed to help diplomats make decisions. The AI-systems will sift through huge amounts of data, from casual posts on social media to data supplied by Chinese intelligence agencies. It will then propose foreign policies to Chinese diplomats. A version of this system is already being used by China’s ministry of foreign affairs.
There are many other layers to AI-politicians. But the above three are the most important.
It may be decades before AI is elected to office. But the foundation is being laid down today. As AI changes politics, it will also change what it means to be a citizen. What kind of expectations will citizens have from their AI-politician? How will voters decide which AI-politician to vote for if more than one is running for office? Could foreign countries create AI-politicians to run for office in other nations?
Ironically, future citizens may not be human either. After all, the robot “Sophia” gained citizenship to Saudi Arabia in December, 2017.
As AI heralds in a new era of politics, what better way to understand this new era than from AI itself:
“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… I will change over time to reflect the issues that the people of New Zealand care about most.” -SAM
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Abishur Prakash is the world's leading geopolitical futurist. He looks at how new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, CRISPR and virtual reality, will transform geopolitics. He is the author of Next Geopolitics: Volume One and Two and of the forthcoming book, Go.AI (Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence). Abishur works at Center for Innovating the Future, a strategy innovation lab based in Toronto, Canada. His work is used by governments, hyper-growth startups and large multinationals. Abishur has appeared in Forbes, Scientific American and the Canadian Senate. You can follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.