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 in politics and debate the big issues.
Nick Gerritsen, the group spokesperson says, “We're asking whether an AI politician could provide the facts rather than push a party line?
“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.”
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.
Gerritsen continues, “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.
Victoria University's Walter Langelaar will be conducting the research phase.
Wellington's Touch Tech will then develop the platform.
Andrew Smith, Touch Tech CEO 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.
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 Kiwis can go to the website and complete its demographic survey, or talk to SAM directly on Facebook.