Will we ever see a robot in the White House?

Technology Eye | Feb. 22, 2016

We’re all aware of the potential threat of automation to our jobs, but by 2020 even the leader of the free world could be feeling the pressure.

Advances in artificial intelligence and the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution could be bringing the idea of a robot president a step closer to reality. IBM’s Watson supercomputer has already been challenged to a debate by fringe presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan .

“I think in 2020 you will see a field emerge with competing AI robots for president, who want to debate and discuss policy,” he told Newsweek .

‘President Watson’?

A campaign page has been set up for Watson to run for president. However, The Watson 2016 Foundation, which is running the campaign, is independent of IBM, so the supercomputer is unlikely to be running for president this time round.

Supporters of a robot president see clear benefits of artificial intelligence running the country. Advanced AI systems have the ability to process vast amounts of information, and make unbiased, reasoned decisions on a wide range of issues.

So what’s stopping the automation of the presidency?

Well, a number of things.

As with all job automation, it’s about developing technology advanced enough to be capable of fulfilling the role. As the following graphic highlights, machines are simply not yet able to meet the social, creative or physical demands required for many jobs.

Running the world's biggest economy is a job with high expectations, as well as some more basic ones. A robotic interloper would need to be able to think and speak like a human, with a grasp of emotions and empathy. Such technology remains a long way off.

It would involve an AI system passing the Turing Test – often considered the pinnacle of artificial intelligence development. The test stipulates that if you cannot differentiate between a human and a robot, then AI will have shown its ability to think like a human.

While there is much debate about the test , including whether it neglects certain aspects of humanity, developing a robot capable of human-like thought remains a daunting hurdle.

Several high-profile names have warned of the risks sophisticated AI could pose to mankind. Professor Stephen Hawking told the BBC in 2014: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Along with Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and hundreds of others, Professor Hawking signed a letter in 2015 warning of the dangers of artificial intelligence.

Then there would be legal, and philosophical, barriers to overcome. The US constitution states that:

“No person except a natural-born citizen or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.”

In a Washington Post article , several potential issues are discussed. The questions of whether a being a person is the same as being human, and whether a robot could ever be considered a person, have no clear answers. Whether a robot can be considered ‘a natural-born citizen’ would also need to be decided.

Equally, the issues of whether a robot can be considered at least 35 years old and a ‘resident’ of the United States would need addressing.

Finally, a robot would need to win enough votes to enter office. Whether an AI system could gather enough support remains to be seen.

As the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report highlights the Fourth Industrial Revolution will cause widespread disruption to labour markets. However, a robot in the Oval Office by 2020 does look unlikely.

Have you read?

The Future of Jobs

What happens when robots take our jobs?

What is the future of your job?

SOURCE: World Economic Forum

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