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Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Robot Advisors

My phone has been ringing off the hook these past few weeks.  When I answered, I heard a prerecorded endorsement for a political candidate.  These politicians and citizens, who have never met me, felt sure that I shared their concerns about a particular issue.  Some of them referred to me by name, as if I was a long-time friend.  While such messages are known as robocalls, I know they're not really made by robots.  Instead, they came from a machine called an autodialer, which uses complex algorithms to impersonate people and personalize messages. 

Yet the name is evocative, and I could not help but wonder: how might my favorite robots vote, if we allowed them to?  Or better yet, how might they advise me in navigating the confusing promises and propositions?

Even if I could understand R2-D2’s noises, I’m not sure how interested he’d be in elections.  He seems more task-oriented.  Give him a problem, and R2-D2 will find a way to tackle it.  This makes him great in a crisis, but when it comes to complex decision-making as to what’s best for society, I have a feeling he’d be less help.  Unfortunately, his friend C-3PO wouldn’t be a great help either.  He’d be too worried about the worst-case scenario of any proposal.  I think he’d also be too busy calculating the odds against any particular candidate keeping his or her promises to assess their relative merit.  While I could use C-3PO as a sounding board to confirm my own anxieties, I’m not sure he could help me vote for a person or issue. 

On the other hand, WALL-E is a true innocent.  As such, he would grasp the hope associated with every issue and politician, and argue that I should vote for those who promise the most positive change.  Seeing the best in everyone and everything, I’m sure he would urge me to endorse a host of radical agendas each election cycle.  While I love him, I know that I cannot ignore my suspicions regarding the potential dangers surrounding each candidate or issue.  Further muddying the waters is the knowledge that too much change isn’t a good thing.  Instead of delivering a promised utopia, too many grand ideas, schemes and revolutionary changes to how we organize and run our society might actually bog down our political, social, and financial systems, making it impossible to get anything (whether it be good, better, or worse) accomplished.

So, in this scenario, I suppose I would have to turn to K-9.  Assuming that Doctor Who or Sarah Jane doesn’t need him, I think he could be of great help.  His personality seems ideally suited to analyze the propositions and the candidates.  With his ability to assess strengths and weaknesses of proposals, and the records, personalities, and associations of candidates, K-9 could advise me how best to vote, given my concerns about what I’d like to see occurring in my society.  Yes, give me K-9 on voting day: I cannot imagine a better advisor.

The sad thing is that, regardless of how I vote, who comes into power, and what proposals become law, the result always seems to a constant slew of half-measures.  At best, these changes allow our society to continue functioning.  But usually, they leave us no better off, and often they affect us so adversely that I find myself closing my eyes, clutching my head, and wishing I hadn’t voted in the way I did.  It is then that one robot's voice rises above the rest.  “Danger, Will Robinson!” cries the General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot B9 (usually referred to The Robot in “Lost in Space”).  “Danger!  Danger!”

Regardless of whom I chose or how I vote, every day the evolving political process prompts B9 to repeat his warnings.  Sometimes I wish Dr. Zachary Smith would reprogram B9 to only alert me to the most pressing dangers.  But then, I don’t need K-9 to warn me against trusting Dr. Smith.

Dragon Dave

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