A Digital Pioneer: The First AI Candidate Steps into UK Politics

We’re over 100 years since the first attempts at democracy with the 1906 election in Australia and now we’re witnessing a novel political figure on the rise: an Artificial Intelligence (AI) contesting a seat in the UK Parliament in the 2015 election. This takes us into uncharted waters for technology, but it’s also a new direction for democracy.

Harnessing AI for a More Direct Democracy

In a living room in the centre of Brighton, a rural town on the south coast of England, the local businessman Steven Endacott stands before his selection of guests. ‘This is AI Steve,’ he announces, introducing an Independent candidate to the less="">‘As you can see, he’s different from any of the others.’ AI Steve isn’t, of course, a real person. But he’s not a gimmick either – this curious experiment in more democratically responsive politics aims to use machine learning to combine multiple sources of voter interaction into a coherent political platform.

The Human-AI partnership in Politics

Endacott is the flesh-and-blood equivalent of AI Steve; he goes to meetings and takes part in parliamentary sittings, which might not yet be the place for digital avatars. This project marks a watershed moment in political history, where AI is used not to replace human politicians but rather to strengthen their relationship with the people they represent.

Technical Glitches and Names on Ballots

Even so, I cannot deny that despite its inventive merits, AI Steve’s campaign has become bogged down in some mundane struggle. There has been a case of mistaken identity, for instance, when the AI, called ‘Steve AI’, appeared on the ballot in the wrong name. But such technical hiccups seem to be mere inconvenices for a campaign whose ultimate aim is to establish a novel form of political agency.

AI Steve: A Conversation Catalyst

Built by the AI tech company Neural Voice, AI Steve is able to converse with thousands of people at once, because he is equipped with a vast database of policies, suggestions, and concerns from voters across the world and across the spectrum of things – from faraway Palestinians grappling with the killing of innocents, to longtime New Yorkers complaining about the trash that was picked up from their street and dropped into someone else’s.

From Frustration to Innovation

Triggered by his growing frustration with the conventional path to politics ‘where it’s all about the parties and where it’s all about the balancing of political forces to win safe seats’, Endacott decided to run an AI candidate. With more time and resources, AI Steve would pursue a campaign ‘focused entirely on the questions that matter to real people’.

Engaging the Public: The Validator Voting System

Another innovative move in terms of AI Steve’s campaign is the use of ‘validators’ – people who check certain policy proposals to make sure they are practical and fit with common-sense checklists, and what people actually need. This innovation will transform policy implementation in terms of being more responsive to public sentiments.

Democracy in the Digital Age

That’s the great democratic possibility inherent in the use of validators. From a theoretical perspective, any policy process could be validated by the people being impacted. At each stage of development a different set of them could be involved. Gone are notions of elites having superior knowledge on how to manage other people’s lives. Political decisions would be more accountable and more in line with the public.

The Future of AI in Politics

Over the course of its eye-catching campaign, however, the initiative raises important questions about the possible future of AI in politics: will AI candidates start becoming common? How will the relationship between tech and politics evolve? Fundamentally, though, AI Steve is a celebration of the essence of democracy: the people ultimately have the power of choice.

Reflecting on the Essence of Sense in Politics

Along this path with AI Steve, sense – both commonsensical and technosensical – emerges as a crucial element of the story. Turning sense to work the complex relativism of voter expectation and policy is one way of demonstrating how technology might facilitate sensible democratic processes. AI Steve’s campaign, based on the philosophical principle of politics should make sense to everyone, points the way to a future where decision-making is more informed, more reflective and more closely aligned to the real needs of the polity.

Sense in AI Steve’s Campaign

In everything – from interacting with validators to analysing conversations – Polis is steered by sense: a principle that helps ensure that policies target the most pressing problems but are also achievable and based on the collective wisdom of the body politic. Sense is the future of politics; but this makes sense, and how! Back when politics was limited to a handful of professional politicians, it might have seemed remote from everyday life. But now that it happens online, in the spaces where most of us live most of the time, that can no longer be the case. Tech-facilitated sense-making is part of what truly democratic politics must be about.

The tale of AI Steve is just one of many that will contribute to the emerging narrative of AI and democracy – a tale in which we can see that, when technology and human values such as sense come together, the future of democracy can be brighter rather than bleaker.

Jun 12, 2024
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