AI Enters Politics: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
The Associated Press reported recently that in Brazil, the first known artificial intelligence (AI) generated law was passed in October. City councilman Ramiro Rosário of Porto Alegre, Brazil apparently had some trouble crafting a city ordinance. Rosário, instead of shopping around for model legislation from another town or special interest group, did the most 2023 thing he could: he asked ChatGPT. The AP reports:
“Rosário told The Associated Press that he asked OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT to craft a proposal to prevent the city from charging taxpayers to replace water consumption meters if they are stolen. He then presented it to his 35 peers on the council without making a single change or even letting them know about its unprecedented origin.
“‘If I had revealed it before, the proposal certainly wouldn’t even have been taken to a vote,’ Rosário told the AP by phone on Thursday. The 36-member council approved it unanimously and the ordinance went into effect on Nov. 23.
“‘It would be unfair to the population to run the risk of the project not being approved simply because it was written by artificial intelligence,’ he added.”
When he was facing leadership challenges in the church due to his age, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth.” Now we have Brazilian lawmakers speaking up for the oppressed AI, which apparently gets no respect. The councilman is not only the champion of the stolen water meter, he’s the voice of AI in government, speaking up for the little bot who has none.
I don’t fault an ill-equipped lawmaker for getting help doing his job, but it does say something about a society where a presumably elected official needs to resort to something that an adept 10-year-old can do. It raises the question, is the councilman even needed if his duties have been reduced to writing a query instead of writing legislation?
After President Lincoln had put Ulysses S. Grant in charge of the Union forces during the Civil War, there was worry among some as to whether the army could match Lee’s rebel forces. When someone asked about Grant’s chances, Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” that Lincoln told this anecdote:
“The question reminds of me of a little anecdote about the automaton chess player, which many years ago astonished the world by its skill in that game. After a while the automaton was challenged by a celebrated player, who, to his great chagrin, was beaten twice by the machine. At the end of the second game, the player, significantly pointing his finger at the automaton, exclaimed in a very decided tone, ‘There’s a man in it.’”
Putting aside the fact that there were apparently “automaton chess players” before the Civil War (who knew?), it was clear then that military and political operations were not automatic. Military operations required people. Political operations required people. Even mechanical chess players required people.
That remains true today. Politics — nasty business as it is — requires people. While we may joke about it being better off without them, we should think long and hard before we relinquish our leadership to something that doesn’t have to eat three squares a day. ChatGPT may be able to compose a water meter ordinance, but it won’t inspire people to use their water in a better way. People need to be led by people.
Just like the automated chess player, for ChatGPT there’s also “a man in it.” AI may have a body of silicon, precious metals, and transistors, but its intellectual framework of ones and zeros can never amount to a soul. AI may be able to write its own answers, and interpret what we want, but it can’t run without programming and someone feeding its server farms the electricity it needs.
No matter how much the hype-mongers of artificial intelligence may tell us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, there’s always a man in it. The question for us as we see the advent of AI applied to politics, is which man do we want? The one we elected, or the people doing the programming? It’s only a matter of time before we’re faced with this here in the U.S. And as much as we think a robot might do a better job than whichever current leader you’ve elected (I bet you can think of a few…), the solution is not to defer to some unelected artificial Oz behind the curtain. The solution is to elect better leaders.
Jared Bridges is editor-in-chief of The Washington Stand.