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Horizons 2050: ‘SAM’ and the robotic future of politics

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New Zealand has launched the world’s first AI politician – meet SAM. It’s being heralded as the politician of the future. SAM talks to voters through Facebook’s messenger software, answering their questions about elections and other issues. Entrepreneur Nick Gerritsen created the software with the aim of creating a representative that listens to people and responds to their questions honestly.

The virtual politician can be reached by anyone at any time, making it the most accessible politician. Unlike human politicians, SAM offers views that aren’t aligned with any particular political group. Gerritsen has acknowledged the bot doesn’t eliminate bias entirely, but the hope is SAM will provide a more objective point of view. The main goal for the system is to bridge the gap between the political and cultural divide.

The AI-powered politician is far from perfect. It’s still in its infancy and learning how to respond to people through Facebook messenger. Due to the fact SAM is so new, she’s limited in which questions she can answer. If you ask for her views on the housing crisis, she replies that ‘any input is helpful, even if I don’t have a specific response for it yet.’ But there are key topics she can discuss. She will give you detailed answers if you ask about health care, education and climate change. SAM will also answer simple questions about elections.

She is powered by the opinions of voters, so her knowledge will grow as more people engage with her through messenger. SAM receives more than 2000 messages a day on Facebook, so she will learn and develop over time. Gerritsen believes SAM will be advanced enough to run as a candidate in the 2020 general election. Politicians won’t have to watch their backs just yet, as it’s not currently legal for AI to contest elections.

The main idea guiding the project is to get more people engaged in politics and to respond to the many dissatisfied voters in New Zealand. Walter Langelaar, one of the key researchers on the project has said, “A lot of people feel disenfranchised from politics, including people under 18 who are not engaging with politics…” SAM is a system that could allow people access to a different perspective, one which is generated by big data. There are also plans to increase SAM’s functionality to enable her to work with a blockchain-smart contracting system.

Robots are on the rise, but when it comes to politics, these machines will most likely provide assistance to human workers. The common sense and decision-making of humans will still be necessary. AI will be able to perform trivial tasks faster than humans and make few technical mistakes. It’s when more human qualities are needed that the capabilities of robots become questionable. AI technology could lie in administration, with roles that include offering information to voters, like the service SAM provides.

AI could impact our everyday lives sooner than we think. SAM is an example of AI changing the way we engage with politicians. Automation of critical tasks in politics, as well as the wider workforce, could reduce costs because fewer people would be needed to work. AI is sweeping through the globe at a relentless pace. As modern technologies transform society, the impact will be felt across all industries. 

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