Future

Speech-Writing Robots Can Parrot Pandering Candidates

Rise of the robotic politicians?
Rise of the robotic politicians?
Brian Fung

-OpEd-

WASHINGTON, D.C. â€" Spend enough time watching politicians talk, and pretty soon you'll have a good idea of how to address the public like a seasoned elected official. No matter the topic, our nation's leaders invariably find a way to tie things back to members of the hard-working middle-class who just want a fair shot at the American dream, perhaps with a side of help for small business.

Lawmakers today might be able to give this kind of political speech in their sleep. But with the way technology is going, they might as well have a robot write it for them.

"Mr. Speaker, supporting this rule and supporting this bill is good for small business. It is great for American small business, for Main Street, for jobs creation. We have an economy that has created nearly 2 million jobs in the past couple of months: apparel, textiles, transportation and equipment, electronic components and equipment, chemicals, industrial and commercial equipment and computers, instruments, photographic equipment, metals, food, wood and wood products. Virtually every state in the union can claim at least one of these industrial sectors. In fact, one young girl, Lucy, wanted to make sure that the economy keeps growing. That should not be done on borrowed money, on borrowed time."

A computer wrote that.

Drawing from roughly 3,800 speeches that were actually delivered on the House floor, University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers used a sophisticated prediction algorithm that could accurately guess what words to lay down next to each other given the presence of other words. In this case, the software was programmed to analyze the last five words of a sentence in order to figure out what the sixth one should be.

The results are sometimes hilarious. One computer-generated address began with words traditionally used at the end of a speech â€" "Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time" â€" but then it blabbed on for 343 more words, commending Congress for having done something unintelligible about health care. Another goes like this:

"For example, I mean probably all of us have had a mom or a grandmom or an uncle to whom we say, "Hey, I noticed your legs are swelling again." Fluid retention. Fluid retention."

I cannot recall the last time I repeated the words "fluid retention" in polite company.

Despite its hit-or-miss nature, it's clear that artificial intelligence can pretty easily whip up, if not a full-on State of the Union address, at least some placeholder text that a politician could later massage into a serviceable diatribe against job-killing regulations or climate science deniers.

Maybe when all political grandstanding has been replaced by computers firing talking points at each other, that'll free up our elected officials to â€" you know â€" govern.

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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.


It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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