April 17, 2018

Next Up for AI: Running for Mayor

Alex Woodie

You’ve heard of smart cities, smart streets, and smart buildings. But how about smart politicians? Now Japan is giving us our first glimpse at what an AI mayor might look like.

An AI entity has been making the rounds of Tama, a small city outside of Tokyo, sharing campaign slogans in a white van. It’s also garnering support through its website, www.ai-mayor.com.

According to this story in the Daily Express, the AI mayoral candidate is backed by a 44-year-old man named Michihito Matsuda, who previously ran for mayor and lost. But this time around, Matsuda is taking a back seat to the metallic, slightly female looking avatar who would supposedly wield real political power.

The AI mayor is running its campaign with a simple slogan: “Artificial Intelligence will change Tama City.” The AI’s political platform (as opposed to its computational platform) is to offer “fair and balanced opportunities for everyone.”

According to a story on Otaquest.com, Matsuda is backed by two local businessmen, including Tetsuzo Matsumoto, a VP at Softbank, and Norio Murakami, who previously worked at Google Japan.

So why would the people of Tama vote for an AI mayor? According to campaign, the would-be AI mayor of Tama would use its superior analytical and statistical capabilities to break down the positives and negatives of petitions that make their way into Tama.

What’s more, the AI would “carefully calculate” the wishes of residents and determine the best way to implement them. And finally, the AI would settle conflicts and strive for compromise among Tama residents, according to the Otaquest story.

This all sounds like what human mayors and other leaders have been striving to do for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, with varying levels of success. Would we gain much by turning important decisions over to an AI? It’s an interesting question, to be sure, and one that the people of Tama City may be asked to answer soon.

Turning mayor’s duties over to an AI entity has the backing of Abinash Tripathy, the CSO and founder of Helpshift.

“While this may sound like a story straight out of sci-fi, I believe this could be an amazing move for humanity,” Tripathy tells Datanami. “There’s a lot an AI mayor could do in terms of listening and calculating different policy solutions, but the creators will still need to be heavily involved in oversight and external communication.”

Compared to humans, AI entities have certain advantages, Tripathy points out, including the capability to make decisions on a much greater scale, and to do so without human biases.

“It’s exciting to think about an AI mayor that can work 24/7 without tiring towards achieving a more efficient, transparent and democratic government that serves the people,” he says.

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