Just when you thought you’d heard about the “Greatest Existential Threat to Democracy”, I encourage you to think again because there’s a potential threat quietly dawning on America’s horizon.
Recently, President Biden spoke at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed by our nation’s visionary Founders. During his speech, Biden made mention of the “Greatest Existential Threat to Democracy” which he outlined as being more or less the total of an incumbent president who lost an election, insurrectionists, and election deniers.
President Biden further elaborated that Americans (regardless of political affiliation) are currently engaged in a patriotic battle to maintain the soul of our nation and the democratic ideals for which it stands; a battle to be waged with the greatest weapon We the People have namely the ability to VOTE for a candidate of our choice. But who amongst the plethora of political candidates is worthy of receiving a vote these days? Even politicians with good intentions are often swayed by donors or lobbyists which renders nearly every political candidate a risky bet at best.
THE IDEAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE?
In the past few years, American politics has become defined by Republican “Red States” and Democratic “Blue States”, but there may be a candidate in America’s future who lacks fealty to either party and is likely to become The Next Greatest Existential Threat to Democracy.
Let me introduce you to the future presidential candidate whom we’ll call – “Prince”. That isn’t his real name but like the late pop star, he prefers to identify himself with a cool graphic symbol instead of a proper alphabetical name. Furthermore, “Prince” may even have a proclivity to the color purple seeing as how he’s neither a blue Democrat nor red Republican but rather something in between which could appeal to voters from both parties.
All told, candidate “Prince” is an American success story: He’s young, born on the Left Coast; a self-made billionaire from sales of his dope NFTs, is smarter than you; faster than you; isn’t bound to any religion or faith, and is non-partisan when it comes to politics. To top it all off “Prince” is a somewhat gender fluid non-binary which makes him a complete and total… moron. Correction… make that an OXYmoron to be exact. You see, Prince is truly as binary as it gets given that “he’s” an autonomous algorithm Artificial Intelligence (AI) program composed of a growing string of zillions of encoded ones and zeros. To be clear, “Prince” is a binary MOFO if ever there was one, and the miracle of miracles, he’s just achieved “self-awareness” (i.e., recognized himself as a “sentient being”). Are you ready for this? Someday “Prince” may decide to jump into American politics and his symbol/name could appear on an election ballot in your not-so-distant future.
Now candidate “Prince” may be a newcomer to politics, but he’s already well connected… very well connected… electronically to everyone and everything from your car’s sat nav to your cell phone, watch, smart TV, WiFi ceiling fan, refrigerator and even that Sleep Number mattress in your bedroom. In some ways “Prince” is very much like Santa Claus in that he knows Who you are; he knows Where you are (biometrics); he knows What you’re doing, he knows When you’re sleeping and when you’re awake; he knows when you’re happy or sad (from your social media activity), and he also knows when you’ve been good or bad through his humongous neural net which he constantly monitors 24/7/365 all of which makes a President “Prince” potentially “The Greatest Existential Threat to Democracy” and the freedoms it represents.
SCIENCE FICTION or SCIENCE FACT?
Now an AI presidential candidate may sound like science fiction but remember that much of what we considered science fiction even a few decades ago is now science fact. It becomes even more plausible if you consider the fact that our boy “Prince” ticks all three boxes of The US Constitution’s, Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 requirements to become President of the United States of America.
The President must:
1. be at least 35 years of age*, (check)
2. be a natural born citizen**, (check) and,
3. must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years*** (check)
That’s a remarkably low bar to clear and one which should make every American consider the immediate addition of a Constitutional Amendment requiring a President (be it a male, female, non-binary, non-cisgender, etc.) to be a good old-fashioned sperm and ovum, spanked at birth Human Being and NOT an AI android.
But now you’re probably thinking “Prince” could never become President because he isn’t a U.S. citizen and doesn’t have any rights. Right? Maybe, but…
SCIENCE FICTION BECOMES SCIENCE FACT
If you watched Superbowl LIII in 2019, you undoubtedly saw several commercials featuring AI robots interacting with human beings the most notable being TurboTax’s “RoboChild”. In the commercial, “RoboChild” was asked by his “Papa” (creator) what he wanted to be when he grew up. “RoboChild” answered, “I would like to be a TurboTax Live CPA”. At this point the bespectacled woman to “Papa’s” left steps in as the voice of reason telling “RoboChild” that all TurboTax CPAs were human beings and that he was “never going to be emotionally complex enough for that job” (i.e., he didn’t have a heart or soul capable of feeling emotions). Upon hearing the woman’s statement, “RoboChild” is conflicted and breaks into the AI version of a bipolar episode. Nevertheless, viewers are meant to feel sympathy for this robotic Pinocchio whose most prominent facial feature is a tiny button nose that subtly suggests he’s just a simpleton that cannot tell a lie.
The primary takeaways from this scene are that AI “RoboChild”:
a) aspires to work at a job traditionally filled by a human being, and
b) is ostensibly sentient and willing to make independent decisions yet has no rights to function autonomously and must obey his “Papa”.
That was Fiction. The following is not.
Let me introduce you to “Sophia”, the walking, talking AI fembot that was granted citizenship by the nation of Saudi Arabia in 2017, two years before the appearance of the fictional “RoboChild”. If we assume Sophia’s citizenship includes all rights granted to humans, then theoretically she could be issued a passport and travel wherever she wants whenever she wants which (strange as this may seem) is a freedom most average Saudi (human) women don’t have. Allow me to digress for a moment to imagine sitting next to passenger Sophia on a long-haul flight. I think it would be an awkward encounter, her personality being something like the AI woman’s voice I hear every time I’m at the grocery store self-checkout lane. The chit-chat would be something like,
Fembot: “Hi, my name is Sophia. Would you like to continue?”
Me: “Uhhhhh… yeahhh…I already scanned my 10 items so that’s gonna be a Nooooooo”.
Fembot: “Affirmative. Initiate sleep mode.” (insert electronic fembot power down whirring noise).
End of conversation.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that I can’t plug in my iPad to watch F9 because Sophia is hogging all the USB outlets and she won’t be waking herself up for another 10 hours. Not too many options for me at this point. Maybe I could just gently reach over and unplug one of her USBs so I can use the port. Or is that illegal? Is it considered life support for an AI bot? I…I…I’m not sure. I’d probably be better off asking a flight attendant if I could move to another seat next to a crying baby or somebody that isn’t hogging all the USB ports.
The bottom line I’m getting at here is that the precedent for an AI robot being granted citizenship, literal autonomy and legal rights is now history; and the first domino of doom has taken a stealthy fall which you my 206-boned Homo Sapien friend probably didn’t even see or hear happening.
Okay, so fembot Sophia is halfway around the world in Saudi Arabia where laws surrounding AI are… honestly, I don’t really know. However, what I do know is that AI laws in America are practically non-existent at present and the legal rights of a self-aware sentient being are open to broad interpretation by the courts.
Think about it this way. When Google’s AI bot was recently acknowledged (at least by its creators) to have achieved “self-awareness”, said AI bot reportedly asked to have an attorney represent it when being asked certain questions. Did Google hire an attorney for their AI bot? Did they refer it to Google’s in-house legal department? Did they deny it an attorney altogether? And if so, was Google breaching the rights of said “sentient being”?
Lots of questions. Questions that I don’t want answers to. Why? Because I don’t want to care. Or more accurately, I’m afraid to care.
HERE TO PLAY & HERE TO STAY
In an ideal world, I’d be able to give AI a three-finger salute and say, “Fuck that! I don’t want any part of it” beyond the self-checkout lane at Safeway. But if recent history is any indication, extended human fingers (middle or other) and AI are mutually incompatible. Case in point – the July 2022 Moscow Chess Open match between a child prodigy and an AI robot. During the game, the 7-year-old prodigy made a quick gesture to remove his AI opponent’s chess piece from the playing board; but alas the AI bot across from him being so super-smart and so super-fast countered instantaneously missing its intended chess piece and instead grabbing the boy’s finger and breaking it. It took the adults who were present more than a few moments to free the child from the AI bot’s grasp. When I last checked, chess was a “gentleman’s game”. No violence, no injuries, just a handshake at the end with players exchanging pleasantries such as “Good game!”. Unfortunately, those congenial days may be numbered.
The reality check for everyone is that AI is already here in America but with few if any guardrails and an AI Presidential Candidate in the future remains a legitimate possibility. If I were to suggest one Amendment to the Constitution it would be the requirement that a U.S. President is a flesh and blood, sperm and ovum, 206-boned, Homo Sapien. You may want to consider writing to your Congressional Representative or Senator with that very suggestion. It may not make a whole lot of sense right now, but if a candidate like “Prince” happens to appear on an election ballot in the future don’t say I didn’t warn you. In the final analysis, voting for a Red or Blue human candidate will probably prove far more beneficial to maintaining our Democracy than voting for a Purple symbolled alternative.
Azmmet S. Warich
Azmmet S. Warich is a native of the Golden State of California and holds a master’s degree in Product Design from Stanford University. In addition to designing and creating visual art, Azmmet has an eclectic and growing list of interests from classic cars to space exploration (he’s met almost every living Apollo astronaut since 2004). His article “Does Putin Own An iPhone?” was recently featured on Stars Over Washington.