I know a lot of folks who are dreading Thanksgiving. Most are Democrats on their way to visit their relatives who overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump. I tend to avoid this kind of problem, largely by choosing not to travel over the holidays and paying someone to fix my wife and me a nice dinner. Then we come home to binge watch a show like Scandal or House of Cards. Unfortunately, those suddenly seem too realistic to be fun. We are doing Game of Thrones instead because it seems far more lighthearted than reality.
For those looking for something interesting to talk about during Thanksgiving, let’s look at how I think artificial intelligence (AI) could have helped the Democratic party.
Many of our concerns surrounding AI of late have to do with the machines either going terminator on us or eliminating our jobs. However, at an AI Intel event last week, Intel proposed using AI to make us smarter, mostly focused on avoiding mistakes before we make them by observing what we do and providing timely advice. In this scenario, instead of killing and/or replacing us, they become like guardian angels, preventing us from doing something dangerous or stupid.
Setting the Stage for AI
Separate yourself from either party and see if you can look at the election dispassionately. On one side, we had a guy who had no direct political experience, had to fund much of his own campaign because he didn’t know how to raise money, had offended virtually every voting segment but older white men, and didn’t even have the backing of his own party, which was the smaller of the two to begin with. Oh, and the majority of his party leaders had either declined to endorse him or endorsed his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
He ran against a near-lifetime politician with a huge number of successful political campaigns, and one failure, under her belt, the full backing of her party, a massive and vastly larger war chest, most of the entertainment and technology industries behind her, and the heir apparent for the popular sitting president and his often more impressive wife. On paper, this would be like my high school football team taking on the team that won the Super Bowl and then winning. That might happen in a movie, but how the heck could that ever happen in real life?
Last week when Intel had its AI Day and CEO Brian Krzanich proposed his plan to help create AIs that would keep us from doing stupid things and help create a better world, I immediately figured that the folks who needed that tool the most were politicians and, given their unprecedented loss, the Democratic party (those dealing with Brexit in England could use some help, too).
The Democratic Party’s Unofficial Plan to Lose
It wasn’t that the Republicans or Trump out-executed the Democrats; they had virtually nothing but Trump’s personality as a viable weapon and that weapon, at best, was flawed. The Democrats made a massive number of avoidable mistakes.
Every indicator from both parties was that voters wanted change and an outsider, and this has been the case since before Ronald Reagan. They’d seen both Clinton and John McCain as insiders run against Barack Obama, an outsider, and get trounced, suggesting they needed to run an outsider. But instead of supporting Bernie Sanders as an outsider, they threw their support to Clinton, an insider.
After weathering sexual harassment charges in a number of elections against her husband, Bill Clinton, and seeing first hand that none of them made a difference, Clinton’s end strategy seemed to be fully focused on the same type of effort against Trump. Clinton had the unique firsthand experience that this kind of attack doesn’t work in presidential politics, yet she deployed it against Trump.
The email server should have been a huge security warning for the Democrats and they should have immediately moved to not only respond appropriately to this bad decision by admitting wrongdoing and making a credible statement that it wouldn’t recur, but to anticipate leaked emails. They didn’t even shore up the security of the party email servers, even though what was in Clinton’s email server likely provided things like passwords and IDs, and it wasn’t secure. They instead seemed to believe their own rhetoric that this was a non-issue.
Finally, after seeing Obama with his handpicked team of focused analytics specialists roll against both McCain and Mitt Romney with devastating results, they apparently decided to go in a different direction. The result was far closer to Romney’s execution, and a complete revamp on Trump’s side in the last 10 days massively overwhelmed them. Analytics is about optimizing resources and while Trump’s were vastly smaller than Clinton’s, his team used them to better effect. They effectively did to Clinton what Obama did to McCain and especially Romney. Now, instead of Clinton being compared favorably to Obama, Trump is being compared favorably to Reagan. And like it was in both the McCain and Romney campaigns, the losers have to face donors with what has been, for them, a massive waste of money.
The AI Advantage
What Krzanich was talking about at Intel’s AI event was an AI implementation that was close to the facts, able to use historic precedence in real time, and could advise the user before a mistake was made.
At the outset, such a tool might have highlighted that the majority of voters would prefer a younger candidate, who would be tied more closely to a more energetic demographic, someone who would be seen as an Obama heir and still as an outsider with the will to actually fix what needed fixing. Elizabeth Warren would have likely been closest to the ideal candidate, if victory was the goal.
On the Trump side, the advice would probably have been to leave the topic of the leaked video alone and double down instead on the other issues people actually cared about, such as jobs, particularly in the states with the highest electoral college votes.
The AI would have flagged the email server as a possible deal breaker and alerted of a potential broader security breach. It likely would have suggested the Democrats use it as a reason to establish a stronger security platform and use the reformed sinner mythology, where the reformed sinner looks more holy than someone who didn’t screw up in the first place, to turn a liability into an asset.
Finally, it would have constantly recommended practices that had been successful in the past, like Obama’s unique approach to analytics, which would have allowed the Democratic candidate to use superior resources with equal efficiency to Trump to overwhelm him. And that is the potential power of AI as an aid, as Intel describes it.
Using AI in this way is in sharp contrast to the current plan of replacing people with AIs and massively increasing unemployment, and it should have been a goal at the heart of both parties’ platforms.
Wrapping Up: The Big AI Problem
One of the differences between a younger politician and one in my advanced age group is that the younger ones are more likely to have come up with technology and be willing to take the advice, not second guess it. It is doubtful that someone who is as old as any of the candidates and most of the party leaders, with Paul Ryan and Obama as likely exceptions, would be willing to take the advice of an AI. This suggests, as AI becomes more capable, particularly down the path that Intel’s CEO articulated, the younger the politician, the greater the advantage. And that suggests a massive change in the ages for those serving in most elected jobs. After this election, I can’t say that’d be a bad thing.
You see, if the Democrats and the Republicans got smarter, we’d make more progress and have less opportunity to argue about who had the most unacceptable candidate. I have to believe that would lead to a far more safe and sane Thanksgiving holiday, and a better nation and world. Wouldn’t that make a great Christmas present?
Something to discuss over the Thanksgiving holidays.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+