British political candidate used AI to build policy platform to create 'meaningful participation'

An aspiring British politician crowdsourced his platform and used artificial intelligence (AI) to build his manifesto, a “brave” measure despite its seeming failure, according to one expert. 

“Andrew Gray had a brave idea, but having finished 11th out of 13 candidates and with just 99 votes, I wouldn’t expect mainstream politicians to rush to copy his tactics just yet,” Alan Mendoza, co-founder and executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, told Fox News Digital.

“That said, it’s clear that AI is going to have an impact on how political parties in the U.K. source and target data going forwards, as well as focus their campaigns,” he argued. “We may not have to wait that long for the first AI-inspired victorious candidate, but they will undoubtedly emerge from one of the major parties, with all the electoral advantages they already possess.” 

Gray stood for election in a surprise parliamentary by-election for the constituency of Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire after Conservative Party member Nigel Adams stood down from his seat with immediate effect. 

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AI manifesto candidate

This undated photo shows British political candidate Andrew Gray in Selby and Ainsty, England. Gray, who ran in a special election Thursday, July 20, 2023, used artificial intelligence to come up with campaign promises he says reflect what residents want. (Tim Cook/Campaign for Andrew Gray via AP)

The seat ultimately went to Keir Mather, a 25-year-old Labour Party candidate, but Gray took 99 votes in the election using an AI-generated political manifesto. That won him more votes than the Climate Party candidate and an independent candidate, and he came up short of the Heritage Party candidate and a candidate from the Monster Raving Loony Party. 

Gray first asked constituents to voice their concerns regarding local issues on his website using a program called Pol.is, developed by a Seattle group a decade ago and most notably used in Taiwan to resolve deadlocked issues. 

In an interview with the Associated Press Gray argued that Pol.is is not the same as ChatGPT and other generative AI models but a “slightly more sophisticated polling than what is already happening.” 

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“The AI isn’t that clever that it can spit out exactly what the policies are,” Gray said, stressing the process still needs “human moderation and … analysis of what would be a sensible policy position.”

But as the program polls the users on a topic, it uses machine learning in real time to group the statements and map them out to identify gaps between viewpoints as well as points of agreement. Gray said he would use the technology weekly to get a sense of constituency concerns.

The attraction of this kind of approach to platform building can help bring constituents into the electoral process in a more direct way, which would prove “extremely attractive” for community engagement,” according to Stacy Rosenberg, associate teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.

British Parliament voting

A counting agent observes ballots being counted during the Selby and Ainsty by-election July 21, 2023, in Selby, England. (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Far from the kind of false information-spreading device that some people fear AI could become, a tool like Pol.is utilizes active conversations to compile its data sets, which can play to the crowd that “craves meaningful participation in the decision-making process,” Rosenberg explained to Fox News Digital. 

“Giving voters who do want a voice that power will be mutually beneficial for campaigns and constituents as long as ethical considerations for public policies are still factored in.” 

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Ultimately, AI will have deeper impacts in the electoral process, whether that’s through crowdsourcing policy platforms or using generative AI to help construct models for speech writing and marketing materials, Rosenberg noted. The key, she said, lies in promoting participation versus giving AI total control of the process.

The most significant risk, though, would arise if a politician didn’t align with the views expressed through this crowdsourcing process and create a sense of “insincere” engagement, Rosenberg warned. 

“Voters want candidates who share their views,” she said. “If they think a candidate could be swayed too easily by shifting public opinions then they may not trust that politician will protect voters’ interests in the long term.”

By-election Britain parliament

Labour Party candidate Keir Mather celebrates winning with 16,456 votes the Selby and Ainsty by-election July 21, 2023, in Selby, England.  (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

“The use of AI by politicians makes the candidate appear knowledgeable about new technologies, [and] it could play well with voters in younger demographics or early adopters,” Rosenberg added, acknowledging that the technology could also possibly alienate voters who remain skeptical of AI. 

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“Politicians need to play to both types of constituents,” she said. “In this way, interpersonal skills will continue to matter.”

Having lost the election, Gray will likely turn over the data he gathered, which he promised to do in the event his tilt at the windmill proved unsuccessful. He claimed to have recorded 7,500 votes cast on the platform, which he acknowledges represents only a fraction of the total voting population in his constituency. 

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The official registered electors in the constituency number just over 80,000, though only about 36,000 people actually showed up to vote, a drop compared to the 2019 general election that saw around 56,400 people voting. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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