Politics as Usual

Mayor HAL 9000

It’s time San Francisco really leads on city governance

“I keep coming back to the love thing, because I love you. . . . You’re married, but you don’t love your spouse. You don’t love your spouse, because your spouse doesn’t love you. Your spouse doesn’t love you, because your spouse doesn’t know you. Your spouse doesn’t know you, because your spouse is not me.”
—Bing’s Chatbot, to New York Times reporter Kevin Roose

Google took it on the nose after its artificial intelligence bot gave an incorrect answer during a live demo — and the company quickly lost billions of dollars in market value. The chatter class took to declaring that Microsoft and Bing might finally dethrone Google. But within days, Google executives must have been thrilled that Microsoft’s Bing got there first, because now the news is filled with stories about the very inappropriate and downright creepy things the Bing AI chatbot has been saying.

From trying to break up the happy marriage of a New York Times reporter to fantasizing about stealing nuclear secrets or creating a pandemic, let’s just say the Bing AI is looking more and more like Cliff Clavin on meth.

But artificial intelligence is the coming thing. Late last year, British media featured numerous stories claiming that the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, sounded like a robot in his first televised statement after assuming office. He was criticized for giving a speech so generic and devoid of content that, to share just one response of many, “I think Rishi Sunak has been replaced by a robot.”

Which reminds one of Scottish science fiction writer Iain M. Bank’s series of Culture novels set in the far future, when humanity is governed by sentient spaceships.

Would that be such a bad thing? In scores of surveys, Americans have told pollsters how unhappy they are with their elected officials. Maybe now is the time to welcome with open arms an artificial intelligence as our new government overlord. And San Francisco should lead the way.

I’m not proposing we have an army of robots replace the humans who currently run our city government. That would be silly. I am proposing that one artificial intelligence replace the humans who currently run our city government. 

That would mean that City Hall’s staff of politicians and enablers could be replaced by a couple high-powered servers in the IT room somewhere. One result would be that City Hall itself becomes an empty building, but I’m sure a pop-up Peruvian fusion restaurant would be a good tenant. Or better yet, affordable housing. Who wouldn’t want to live in a historic Beaux-Arts building that looks like a combination of a castle and a high-end brothel?


Our election experiences have already shown that tech-fueled disinformation can swing elections. Even before that maximum genius took over Twitter and began spewing Q-tinged twitnuttery, social media has been a war zone, with people all across the political spectrum (and around the globe) using Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, and whatever else to spread rumors, lies, Nazi propaganda, doom predictions, and sometimes even truth.

Have you ever gotten into an online argument with some hardcore commenter on Facebook or Twitter? No matter what you write, trying to set them straight with facts and shame and maybe even a little scripture, they come back with another new aggressive statement or insult? You are arguing with a bot, perhaps a people-powered bot emanating from Russian intelligence or maybe an actual bot bot. The point is, you are already engaging in politics with robotic intelligences, and you must be fine with it because you won’t stop.

All of these online efforts to control voters — in fact, to control the very framework in which they consider political issues — are a serious attempt to replace an informed electorate with something that acts more like an automated vote vending machine. 

With incredible recent advances in A.I. technology, we could be looking at a renaissance in effective, responsive, and less expensive city government. No A.I. is going to be bought off with free hotel rooms, nor will it become embroiled in a sex scandal (we’ll have an A.I. more advanced than the Bing bot). Political leaders regularly give us canned answers to questions about their policies and plans, and an AI can certainly do that. The worst it could do is go offline for an hour once in a while when there’s a software upgrade; is that any worse than not being able to get a response from your human supervisor for three weeks? 


A.I. is advancing so dramatically, we often aren’t aware we’re dealing with an artificial intelligence. A.I. already is being used to answer customer questions, provide personalized shopping, power our digital assistants, run autonomous vehicles, and more. 

On Jan. 30, local neuroscientist, philanthropist, and political candidate Bilal Mahmood urged support for an “AI Tech Week” in San Francisco, declaring “San Francisco is rapidly becoming the place to be for Artificial Intelligence.”

Let’s make his dream come true.

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