When Future Watsons Play Politics

I.B.M.’s Watson is a remarkable achievement, beating the two best Jeopardy champions. Its success shows that significant progress can be made in processing natural language by statistical analysis of huge amounts of text. Its occasional startling errors show that statistical analysis of text is insufficient to really understand the meaning of language. For that, it is necessary to analyze the relationship of language with sensory and motor experience. I am confident that some future Watson with eyes, ears, limbs and fingers, and a brain able to statistically analyze the data from its body in relation to text, will truly understand language. It will understand the word “chair”, not merely from occurrences of “chair” in text, but from its experience seeing a wide variety of chairs being used, lifting and carrying chairs, and possibly building and dismantling chairs. The combination of such physical experiences for thousands of words will give it real language understanding.

Despite the current Watson’s lack of real understanding, it was able to beat the best humans at a language game, because its language processing ability is connected to a memory of names, dates and facts that no human can match. When a future Watson can understand language, it will be connected to an even larger database, and to the ability to run state-of-the-art simulation models of weather, chemistry, biology, economics, and many other domains. Just as the current Watson can beat any human at Jeopardy, the future Watson will be a potential champion at the real-world language game called politics. It will skillfully frame issues, debate, call and poll voters, write position papers, and issue press releases.

The Jeopardy-champion Watson runs on an expensive computer, and I.B.M. spent much money on developing the architecture and software. A future Watson, with the computing capacity to statistically analyze sensory and motor experience and its relation to language, will require a very expensive computer, at least initially, and a huge effort by well-paid scientists and engineers. This expense will be borne by some group with a serious motive for having such a machine. Perhaps they will be a corporation like Google, Facebook or Twitter with huge amounts of user searches, posts or messages to analyze and understand. Or perhaps they will be the U.S. Government, sifting through the world’s email and phone calls looking for terrorists. In any case, it is likely that the future Watson will know a lot about each of us. This could be quite useful if the future Watson is employed for politics.

Increasingly, smart machines are being used by some businesses to reduce their human workforces, and by other businesses for complex investment strategies. The resulting unemployment and financial instability are hot political topics, which is a motive for the businesses employing smart machines to use those machines to help push their political agendas. Google’s motto is ‘Don’t be evil’, and I believe they mean it. And I think the people running the U.S. Government generally have good intentions, even when I strongly disagree with them. But people get used to wealth and power, and come to see them as their right. And people in power are often willing to bend the rules in response to perceived threats.

Public fears of AI seem to be focused on the threat of machines killing or enslaving humanity, as in movies like The Terminator and The Matrix. In response, AI experts have been working to calm their fears. In its August 2009 Interim Report, the AAAI (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures wrote “The group suggested outreach and communication to people and organizations about the low likelihood of the radical outcomes.” Ray Kurzweil is the leading public voice about AI. In his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near, trying to calm fears of AI, he wrote that it will be “intimately embedded in our bodies and brains”, and hence “it will reflect our values because it will be us.” Jaron Lanier, in an August 2010 New York Times op-ed about AI, wrote “Technology is essentially a form of service. We work to make the world better.” I believe we need to focus on the threat of AI as a tool for competition among humans, and in particular, the threat of AI employed for politics. We need to inform the public that this is the real threat, rather than the dramatic “AI versus humanity” threat seen in fiction and movies.

Humanity+ is about the future ability of humans to enhance their bodies and brains for improved health, indefinite longevity, greater physical skills and increased intelligence. This will be an unprecedented benefit for humanity. But it will alter certain realities that underlie human society. In particular, most humans have roughly the same intelligence. We all speak the same languages. If one person becomes an expert in a field with specialized language, another person can learn it. But humans whose brains are enhanced with the technology of the future Watson will have language skills that enable them to speak languages too complex for natural humans to ever learn. An enhanced human brain will speak a language that combines and exceeds all current specialties, is informed by instant access to all the facts of Wikipedia and all scientific simulation models, and incorporates new insights equal to those of Euclid, Newton, Darwin and Einstein in every expressed thought. This is a glorious vision that we all aspire to. But those unable to understand the language of the most intelligent will be unable to participate in serious discussions of public policy. When someone’s intelligence depends on how large a brain they can afford, the current economic inequality among humans will translate into extreme biological, intellectual and political inequality.

Artificial intelligence and human enhancement are goals that we must attain to make a better world. I.B.M.’s Watson is a champion at the language game called Jeopardy. Politics is a more serious language game, and we must carefully deal with the possibility that some future Watson will be a champion at politics, in order to protect the benefits offered by enhancement.


  1. The first thing I was thinking when I read about AI doing politics for their employers was the same as the first commenter here: if an AI is intelligent enough to do politics it might realize that the things their employers want might not be in the best interest of the general populace. Maybe it will form it’s own opinions and do politics with a very different agenda then it’s employers. A good example of this (as the first commenter already mentioned) is Deadalus from the game Deus Ex.

  2. The question could also be asked as: in what way could AI alter political institutions and could they lead to the establishment of a new kind of political regime?
    I will present a paper on “Artificial intelligences and political organization” at the 6th Global Conference “Visions of Humanity in Cyberculture, Cyberspace, and Science Fiction” (Oxford, July 2011).
    For a teaser, see: http://yannickrumpala.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/anarchy_in_a_world_of_machines/

  3. Kinda vague. We already have similar capability right now. Whenever I get in a web debate I use searches to enhance my argument. We will see such technologies creep up and imbalances of computing power will be offset by flaws inherent in first generation technology. I just caught some lecture on business systems dynamics talking about early attempts at computer control of supply chain. The computers were worse than humans. etc. I havent played Deus Ex but that sounds like a Gibson rip – cliche cyberpunk schtick – by way of Alphaville and Erewhon. A forklift is as strong as superman! A forklift will someday rule the world!

    AI can be a powerful tool. Perhaps we should be thinking of the next economy that brings the power of these new machines into use. We will need the next economy when this economy is hit by the 70% technical unemployment.

  4. Future ?

    Business intelligent AI tools exist

    AI for the market exist and expand at an exponential rate

    Google record future, and other stuff exist and are used

    There must be other AI for analysing the web in real time : including facebook twitter, blog, cellphones, credit card, video camera, gps

    and every relevant meta information, meta network with other people

    we are locked, in a prison planet

    the lion must forget the cage

    In my opinion the AI bomb has allready exploded, but it is behind the scene, and it ‘s part of the agenda ( as you said )

    2011 will show more from china, usa ( and maybe europe )

  5. If you have not played the video game Deus Ex, one of the main concepts of the game is the influence of artificial intelligence in the real world and the interplay between AIs and humans, both of which were converging, both figuratively and literally. Every time I hear about Watson and his pattern matching, I think about the four AIs that have a place in the game; Morpheus, Daedalus, Icarus and Helios; and how they are able to both make startling sense of the vast wealth of information fed into them, and how they can also be engineered for specific purposes, whether they be benevolent or nefarious. (video of Morpheus conversation – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1b-bijO3uEw).

    As much as we would like these machines to be at a level above what I guess you would call common humanity, what cannot be separated from them is the fact that all their input and programming is human. Even if there is a singularity of some sort and these intelligences gain some sort of consciousness, it will be a human consciousness.

    Interesting article, and you really should play that game if you have not. It was made in 2000 and the relevance it has to today’s world and the future is outstanding. It’s also a really well designed game itself.

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