Thursday, 16 November 2017

Meet SAM - the Virtual Politician for the Digital Age – the Politician Who Never Lies?

A Wellington-based technology group will launch a pilot digital platform called “SAM – the Virtual Politician” at the launch of the newly-formed Wellington CIT.AI chapter today – part of a global network of cities showcasing their Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability and talent.

The group aims to test out whether there is a better way for people to engage with politics and debate the big issues.

“We’re asking whether an AI politician could provide the facts rather than push a party line?” explains the group’s spokesperson Nick Gerritsen.

“We believe it’s time to consider whether technology, and in this case AI, can help us get better information to inform decision-making on the major issues like water quality, housing, or climate change. We need better outcomes,” he says.

Gerritsen, who is involved in a number of technology projects, says the current political system is reliant upon politicians staying on top of all the major issues, being well informed and coming up with good decisions.

“We’ve seen in the US, UK, and Spain recently, however, that politicians may be wildly out of touch with what people actually think and want.

“Perhaps it’s time to see whether technology can produce better results for the people than politicians. The technology we propose would be better than traditional polling because it would be like having a continuous conversation – and it could give the ‘silent majority’ a voice.”

Natural language processing technology and sentiment analysis algorithms have come a long way in recent times and are now at the level where they have practical application in day-to-day interactions with people.

Initially, the project would be conducting research into whether people would engage with a virtual politician and then move into the viability of building the software. Assuming it is viable the aim would be to have the politician up and running for the next general election.

Gerritsen says the group wants to have a positive impact on political discussion and democracy and doesn’t have a political agenda or bias as such.

“We might be surprised at the outcome. And that might be a good thing if it’s more in tune with the voting public. The technology will enable greater people power.”

Victoria University’s Walter Langelaar will be conducting the research phase. He says: “Some of the work we’re doing in our Media Design department and post-graduate curriculum around Machine Learning and AI is informing this project and its contextualisation.

“Understanding the fact that machine-learning algorithms can conduct, shape and steer conversations is relevant both from a perspective on future interaction design applications as well as through analysing the socio-political impact of these tools.”

Wellington’s Touch Tech will develop the platform and the company’s CEO Andrew Smith says: “This is an exciting opportunity to develop software which uses AI tools in a unique way. It will certainly be a challenge, but given the developments in AI it is within the realms of possibility.”

“The project will raise funding to assist in the development of SAM, but she exists now in a very basic form and we look forward to creating the platform for her to learn and demonstrate her intelligence,” says Gerritsen.

SAM needs the input of ordinary New Zealanders to guide her development. Every question asked or comment made is an opportunity for SAM to learn, even if she doesn’t yet know the answer.

To help SAM learn and grow, go to the website and complete itsdemographic survey, or talk to SAM directly on Facebook.

This article was originally published on Scoop.

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