Revolution at the Ballot Box: When AI Dreams of Mayoral Office

An election campaign come to life that could easily be the premise of a science-fiction novel. One of the mayoral candidates for the town of Cheyenne in the US state of Wyoming has promised that, if he wins, all decision-making powers will be turned over to an AI bot called VIC. And looms an entire world of ‘what if’ questions about the future of both governance and technology – and what it means to lead and be led.

The Dawn of AI in Politics

VIC: The Virtual Integrated Citizen

What Victor Miller is suggesting is far from the norm – and the possible. His campaign is built around VIC, an acronym for a policy-making ChatGPT chatbot. Miller contends that VIC is smarter and better at reading the law than the human officials who are answerable to you right now. ‘This is way smarter than me,’ Miller said of VIC, ‘and way more competent at this job than the people I’d be replacing.

A HOME for AI in City Hall?

It might still sound like a sci-fi daydream, but he’s serious about it. He intends to show up to work as mayor of Topeka, serve meetings, file papers, do anything and everything a mayor does – all with one caveat: the decisions he makes will be at the advice of VIC, as will be the case of all city employees Miller’s city hall In a way, this sounds like giving the bot control of the show. VIC will become the city’s chief strategist.

Legal and Ethical Quandaries

Miller’s new model is not going unchallenged by Wyoming’s political class. The state’s Secretary of State, Chuck Gray, has warned that the AI bot is ‘not eligible to be a person’ and that it ‘needs to comply with the law that says anybody who runs for office needs to be a real person’. This will be the start of a legal and ethical experiment to determine what it means to be a candidate or a representative in the digital age.

The Heart of the Matter: AI or Human Touch?

Bridging Technology and Humanity

Lurking behind Miller’s campaign is a deep philosophical question about the interplay between technological efficiency and humanity in government. Does it even matter if an AI is as smart as a human being if it cannot grasp, in a meaningful way, what the human beings under its governance actually want, fear, need, and dream? Is there anything about leading that can be expressed in the logic of computer software, or is that ability inherently a function of the distinctly human capacity for empathy, compassion, and moral judgment?

The HOME of Governance: People or Programs?

At the core of this issue of using AI for governance is what should be the home of leadership. Humans have long had the advantage in this leadership role (with all its failings and associated virtues), but if Miller’s proposal is accepted, it could change the very nature of the leadership tradition. Humans might no longer be the leaders because they no longer live within the home of governance; instead, that home might be a digital brain rather than a human heart.

Future Prospects and Precedents

While the enlisting of AI to assist in public administration is not new, to make it the ultimate decision-maker would be. If the experiment in Cheyenne works, it could signal a future of AI bots advising, consulting or even running for office.

Humanizing the Future

Embracing Change, Preserving Values

In the face of potentially deeply destabilising changes to the way we organise our societies, how can we use the power of artificial intelligence to invigorate the purposes of public service, without sacrificing what makes us human in the process? The path forward is a delicate path to walk.

HOME: Explained

Home in this sense is not just about a building or place, but about what constitutes governance and leadership in a transforming world – a human space, a place of conflict and drama, in contrast to the technical space, an AI’s place. In a time of change and uncertainty, home asks us to consider where we come from and where we are going. The human, not the technical, is where governance should always be, even in the age of AI.

Victor Miller’s radical run for office is not just a political stunt – it’s a cultural reckoning, a reflection of our age and a signpost for the ages to come. The struggle between humans and bots in Cheyenne might offer a clue as to how political power will be commanded and challenged in an age of anthropomorphic intelligence, as well as a hint at what we’ll miss when no one is left at the helm of governments, industry and our lives.

Jun 14, 2024
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