FAIR COMMENT: Could A.I. make politicians obsolete?

Startup company behind ChatGPT acknowledges the technology isn’t perfect, but it can learn from its mistakes, writes political columnist

You’ve probably heard about ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (A.I.) tool that can generate everything from essays to poetry to videos on demand in seconds.

Schools are worried about students’ potential to cheat. Workers are worried about being replaced.

Some of the jobs it could supplant are technical writers, customer service reps, accountants, graphic designers, computer programmers, and legal assistants.

If I were still in politics, I’d be worried about ChatGPT taking my place.

Barrie’s city council recently spent an entire Saturday coming up with its five priorities. They were:

* affordable living

* community safety

* a thriving community

* infrastructure investments

* responsible governance

I asked ChatGPT what the city’s priorities should be and it came up with these in less than 10 seconds:

* Addressing the housing crisis and improving affordable housing options

* Enhancing public safety and reducing crime rates

* Boosting the local economy and creating job opportunities

* Improving infrastructure, such as roads, bridge and public transportation

* Encouraging civic engagement and improving government transparency and accountability

* Promoting sustainability and reducing carbon footprint

* Improving access to healthcare and education

* Addressing social and racial inequalities

That is pretty impressive.

ChatGPT nailed the first five and, showing a progressive bias, even added three more worthy priorities. All in a fraction of the time it took councillors. Talk about bringing efficiency to city hall!

Probably the most frequent complaint received by councillors is speeding traffic. People often call and ask what can be done.

So I asked ChatGPT.

“There are several options you can try. Report it to the local police department, request traffic-calming measures from the city (e.g. speed bumps), organize a community speed watch program, advocate for increased enforcement and fines and raise awareness through community meetings or a neighbourhood newsletter.”

That’s exactly the advice city councillors would give them.

ChatGPT, what is the best thing Barrie can do to improve its downtown?

“Encourage public transportation options; develop a variety of entertainment options to attract visitors; make the area more walkable and visually appealing with improved sidewalks, street lighting and landscaping; attract new businesses and support existing ones; encourage mixed-use developments to create a vibrant 24/7 community.”

That says what basically every pricey consultant’s study has told us for the past 40 years.

ChatGPT isn’t perfect. Asked how to get from downtown Barrie to the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) by bus, it tells you to take Barrie Transit Route 1 or 2, which in reality would actually take you to Park Place or Georgian Mall.

And asked what Barrie is famous for, ChatGPT replied: “Barrie is a city in Ontario, Canada, known for being the birthplace of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie.”

The startup company behind ChatGPT acknowledges it isn’t perfect, but unlike some politicians, will learn from its mistakes, always improving and getting smarter.

And it has already perfected ‘bureaucratese’, that ability to answer a question without actually saying anything which could get you in trouble.

ChatGPT, why is it taking so long to finish the Anne Street bridge?

“The reasons for the delay could be many and varied. Some potential causes could be unexpected construction challenges, changes in design or project scope, supply chain issues, financing difficulties, weather conditions, labour shortages, regulatory compliance issues or a combination of factors.”

Yup, I’d say there a good chance ChatGPT will make politicians redundant.

Barry Ward is a veteran editor and journalist who also served on Barrie city council for 22 years. Fair Comment appears regularly in BarrieToday. 


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