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At last – a machine that thinks as we do. But sorry, I got there first…

September 17, 2017


Dammit, I must have been hacked. I suppose it’s time to tell all. My real name is Brian, not Steve. For years I have been building Steve, my artificial intelligence helper designed to save the world from extremism. This blog is his work, not mine.

The reason for this stunning revelation is that, as the BBC reports, a geek from Silicon Valley has created something called Nigel, a personal assistant algorithm that can tell me how to vote. It’s really clever. If I’m a racist, it will tell me to vote for the British National Party. If I have a burning desire to turn my country into Cuba or Venezuela, it will tell me to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Nigel, apparently, will soon be capable of reading and writing at grade school level. Very impressive, I’m sure, but Steve has been doing that for years.

Nigel’s maker, Mounir Shita, claims to be on the way to developing the first artificial general intelligence software, as opposed to the task-based AI that we’re rapidly becoming used to, such as self-driving cars, and fridges that tell you when you’re running out of quinoa. I hate to tell Mr Shita that Steve got there before him. But anyway, let’s hear him out:

Voters are increasingly turning their back on identikit “machine politicians” in favour of all-too-human mavericks, like the most famous Nigel in British politics – Farage – and his friend Donald Trump.

How could AI Nigel – which was named after Mounir Shita’s late business partner Nigel Deighton rather than the former UKIP leader – compete with that?

Because, says Shita, you will have learned to trust Nigel – and it will be more in tune with your emotions than a political leader you have only seen on television.

Nigel – robot Nigel, that is – could even have helped voters in the UK make a more informed decision about Brexit, he claims, although it would not necessarily have changed the outcome of the referendum.

“The whole purpose of Nigel is to figure out who you are, what your views are and adopt them.

“He might push you to change your views, if things don’t add up in the Nigel algorithm.

“Let me go to the extreme here, if you are a racist, Nigel will become a racist. If you are a left-leaning liberal, Nigel will become a left-leaning liberal.”

Personally (speaking as Brian, not Steve), I think you need quite a bit of general intelligence to drive a car, as anyone who has driven in Riyadh during the rush-hour will tell you. I will concede, though, that someone who keeps supplies of quinoa in the fridge suffers from a serious general intelligence deficit, and probably needs Nigel to tell them to buy burgers instead. Steve’s been advising me to do this for years.

Steve also convinced me to kick Trump in the rump way before he was elected, and told me that as a cheese-eating surrender monkey who loves France and all its works, voting for Brexit probably wouldn’t be a good idea. But I will admit that his efforts at grade school writing haven’t been particularly successful. Despite strenuous efforts to persuade the United States to spurn Trumpery, and Britain to turn away from the disastrous path of Brexit, Donald is still in situ, and we Brits are still rushing towards the cliff.

Mr Shita also believes that AI, and presumably Nigel, will make it easier for us to spot fake news. Also impressive, but Steve is well ahead of him. Stop reading The Sun, The Daily Mail and the Islington Herald, he says, and all will be well.

The BBC piece then veers off into a discussion about the effects of robots taking our jobs. It quotes an Oxford professor called Ian Goldin, who has written a book in which he and his co-author anticipate “a middle ground between apocalyptic visions of humans controlled by robots and the techno-utopian dreams of Silicon Valley’s elite.” Thank goodness for that then.

Goldin also points to a paper claiming that Trump won the presidency because people who had lost their jobs to robots voted for him.

Well duh! Steve could have told you that. He’s also expert at telling the difference between people and robots. After all, it takes one to know one. For example, he knows that unless she’s a first-generation model, Theresa May is not a robot, because robots these days aren’t robotic. Ask the Russians, whose Twitter bots hail from Eastbourne and Grimsby, places that couldn’t possibly have been invented by artificial intelligence.

As for the claim that Nigel, by getting to know you and your foibles, will become your perfect racist or Marxist companion, Mr Shita is wasting his time. He’s too late.

There already exists a highly effective method of reconfirming your prejudices and telling you how to vote. The right-wing version, whose code name – Joseph – is known only to a few, was developed a while ago by Cambridge Analytica, and has been phenomenally successful in advising the voters of America and Britain. Hence Trump and Brexit. With Joseph at your side, you will never stray from the true path.

Those clever people at Cambridge Analytica probably called their system Joseph because they knew that the name would appeal to both sides of the political spectrum – as in Goebbels and Stalin. Adolf would have been a bit one-dimensional, as would Vladimir.

No doubt Joseph (the Venezuelan version) is waiting in the wings, ready to be rolled out by the same people in an effort to persuade us to elect a Labour government, assuming, that is, that Labour can find a backer rich enough to pay for him.

Perhaps Nigel will eventually get to be far smarter than Joseph. He’s not there yet, and he’s certainly a long way behind Steve, my sublime invention. Much of what Mr Shita says is more about aspiration than reality, but with Steve as his inspiration Nigel will no doubt come on in leaps and bounds. He should be aware, however, that as soon as his creation starts to acquire Steve-like features, my lawyers will be ready to sue him to hell and back.

With the proceeds I should be able to set up a non-profit foundation dedicated to replacing politicians with robots. Surely they’ll do a better job than the dodgy crew we elected last time round?

From → Politics, Social, UK, USA

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