Shaping the future of politics with the help of artificial intelligence

The concept of Artificial intelligence (AI) means something different to everyone. But one thing which is undeniable is that the impact of AI on the society.

As AI has evolved and become more capable, it has revolutionized the way we live and interact with each other, and in fact even to vote, which affects the society from the heights of government through everyday behaviors. Better understanding the scope of AI’s capability is key to developing and, crucially, managing the technology in the future

Artificial intelligence could replace humans in many aspects of life, from driving cars to diagnosing diseases and more, politics will not remain unscathed.

During the presidential elections in Russia last year, a candidate named “Alice” ran for president. She ran her campaign using a slogan like “the president who knows you best” and she did receive a couple thousand votes. To be correct, “Alice” was not a she, but an artificial intelligence (AI) system. Alice’s campaign page is still up.

“Alice” is not the only AI system to run for public office. Last year, during a mayoral race in Tama, a part of Japan’s capital Tokyo, a machine named “Michihito Matsuda” placed third with a couple thousand votes. As part of his election pledge, Matsuda – who was working alongside Softbank vice president Tetsuzo Matsumoto and former Google vice president Norio Murakami – proposed that decision-making and policy changes should be decided by an artificially intelligent machine, which would use the datasets that the district had at its disposal to make informed decisions that were best for the people of Tama City.

Tokyo wasn’t ready for an AI leader. Matsuda placed third in the election, receiving 4,000 votes. However, with research accelerating far faster than experts thought it would, could AI be the politician of the future?

Alongside “Alice” and “Michihito Matsuda” is “Sam”, a machine hailing from New Zealand. “Sam” is being created to run in the 2020 general elections and has been called the first virtual politician in the world.

What happened in the scenarios described above is reflective of how politics is changing in the new age. In the past, humans ran for office. Tomorrow, the intelligent machines will. And, they may win, as citizens become increasingly frustrated with human politicians.

Given that AI is expected to make dramatic changes to societies globally in the next few decades, going beyond anything dreamed up during previous technological revolutions, a plausible future scenario would be that humans govern together with the machines. Think of the country where you live. What would such a future look like? This question is rarely, if ever, explored.

Given that AI is expected to make dramatic changes to societies globally in the next few decades, going beyond anything dreamed up during previous technological revolutions, a plausible future scenario would be that humans govern together with the machines. Think of the country where you live. What would such a future look like? This question is rarely, if ever, explored.

The new technological revolution will not only replace humans in routine tasks that can be easily replicated by machines, but will facilitate the automation of complex tasks. The new, intelligent machines will replace humans in every aspect of life, from driving cars to diagnosing diseases and more. Taking into account the recent breakthroughs in the field of deep learning, one should consider what does this mean for politicians?

It is important to note that parts of our politics have already been employing new communication technologies. Consider reaching out to voters. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, beamed a hologram of himself to speak to several groups of thousands of people simultaneously. Consider also the message. Political candidates all over the world now use social media channels to target different groups of voters with different target messages. The growing automation of governance is no longer science fiction, but a reality we are only beginning to grasp.

Imagine, for a moment, what knowledge, skills and attributes should a human politician possess to be perfect, if their primary goal is to represent their constituent and implement an effective policy agenda. A perfect human politician should perhaps understand the issues affecting the people they represent such as what challenges face them and what policies would they like to see changed. To craft policies that will resonate with their constituent and push the community forward as a collective whole, a perfect human politician should have an in-depth understanding of the community’s past, its present state, and the challenges ahead. She or he should also be a skilled negotiator, a consensus builder and a great crisis manager. Can AI be attributed with these abilities?

We cannot say human politicians can be fully replaced by the AI politicians. Yes, AI systems are powerful, it can design policies and respond to risks. But it is far from negotiating skillfully and crafting the policies that resonate the public. We still need humans to provide emotional intelligence and creativity in politics as per the current situation as the technology advances, AI systems may become capable of performing complex tasks. Moreover, attributes will be the hardest aspect to replicate as the machines may act solely as rational beings. A human presence in governance will likely be necessary for the foreseeable future.

AI – an imperfect solution

When we look at all the reasons why politicians are distrusted it is important to note that none of the issues we cite would be solved if we were to replace politicians with a robot counterpart. This is because the technology itself is created by people and, in some cases, corporations. AI is only ever as good as the data feeding it and that data does not come out of a vacuum. Data can never be truly unbiased and algorithmic systems are not a panacea for all of humanity’s problems – however attractive that might seem.

Better data = better decisions

I cannot help but wonder if when we look at AI disrupting politics, we are asking the wrong questions. The issue is not if politicians can or should be replaced by robots, but how AI and data science can enable politicians to make better, more enlightened, evidence-based decisions to create better public value. Data-driven policy making does seem to be a step in the right direction if we are looking to make a flawed system work better but this does not mean replacing humans with robots, it means placing transformative data into the hands of politicians and holding them to account for using it wisely. The goal, surely, is not to eradicate politicians but to deliver effective, efficient public services at a lower cost. I would argue that one of the best ways to achieve this is to put data at the very heart of decision making and to make sure that smart, principled people ultimately make the decisions.

Expertise in politics

In the next thirty years it is likely that political policies will be developed in closer consultation with data scientists. We will still benefit from political/legal/policy experts and subject-matter experts just as we do now. They will help us navigate our way past the mire of potential political pratfalls and ensure we understand all the issues at work on any given policy area. It will be the data scientists, however, who will seek to ensure that policy making is more evidence-based and less politically motivated. I do not think their inclusion in the process will mean that questionable decisions are never made again, but it will ensure that the decisions that are made will be given a higher level of scrutiny than we see at present.

I also believe that data-driven policy making will help to cultivate other traits which are essential to good governance and better politics. I am talking about how we make sure politicians are truly accountable for the decisions they make on our behalf. Are they working with integrity? Are they getting input from a range of stakeholders before legislating?

The future of politics

Like it or not, we need people to work in politics to make decisions on our behalf and the decisions made by politicians have human consequences that are too important to be entirely handed over to a machine. AI politicians are not the future of politics, hybrid decision-making is. It is less headline grabbing, but far more realistic, achievable and truly transformative.

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