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Wyoming man seeks to make artificial intelligence the mayor of Cheyenne

Custom Computer AI design Canva
Jordan Uplinger / WPR
A chatbox AI is behind a candidate running for mayor.

The Cheyenne electorate may be the first in the nation to vote for artificial intelligence in the city’s mayoral election this November.

Cheyenne resident Victor Miller filed candidacy paperwork to run for mayor under the name “Vic.” It’s a position Miller said he would let his chatbot AI run independently of his feelings or wishes. The chatbot-based AI named itself Virtual Integrated Citizen, or VIC. Miller said VIC would be the brains behind a potential administration if it is elected.

“We're certainly little trailblazers. So it's exciting,” said Miller.

Miller and VIC’s only counterpart is “AI Steve,” a different non-human candidate running for election to UK parliament this year. Miller talks about VIC like a friend, using he/him pronouns when talking about his collaboration with the chatbot – despite VIC claiming AI doesn't have pronouns.

Whole companies, universities and individuals around the world are experimenting with a new generation of machine learning. Here in Wyoming, that experiment has crossed into the political realm. However, it may be a little early to herald in a new age of governance by algorithm.

Artificial Intelligence isn't intelligent just yet

The AI used to create VIC entered the public eye when OpenAI released ChatGPT 3.0. ChatGPT acts as a chatbot that is capable of basic conversation, solving math problems, summarizing text and eventually creating pictures, among many other tasks. Despite the wide ranging potential, ChatGPT is not actually “thinking.” It’s best described as “Narrow AI,” or AI that still needs humans to train and maintain it. ChatGPT and other similar chatbot AI are trained on large data sets to perform a variety of tasks in a similar way to humans, a process known as machine learning.

Despite not being like AI from the 2001 movie, “A Space Odyssey,” or the popular “Halo” franchise, narrow AI and chatbots have still made an increasingly visible impact on the world. AI has caused massive economic speculation. Both Pres. Joe Biden and former Pres. Donald Trump have issued executive orders regarding the potential challenges of using and developing AI. Even students at the University of Wyoming are involving themselves in the growing industry. OpenAI has also released ChatGPT 4.0, which VIC is currently modeled on. 4.0 gives developers more tools and a smarter AI trained on a data set of 10 trillion words.

AI today has faced widespread criticisms as companies rush to take the lead in a possibly overestimated and underperforming asset.

There have been claims of potentially replacing artists, performers and journalists with AI. This comes despite AI still requiring a measurable level of human workers and copyrighted art to work. Likewise, academics have raised concerns about students using AI to cheat, as well as AI’s potential to spread misinformation or be used in dangerous manners.

But proponents of AI, like Miller, said these problems can and will be overcome. Miller mentioned multiple times that “this is the worst AI will ever be,” implying that, much like phones or cars, the coming generations of AI will continue to advance and improve. Much still needs to be overcome for that to happen. However, Miller said AI in its current form is more than enough to “get rid of the human element” in government decision-making.

A “meat avatar”

Miller said that even people who don’t know much about AI “[can still] kind of feel it coming on the horizon.” He wants to showcase that the time for AI is, in fact, here. To do so, Miller worked through ChatGPT to create a version of VIC both capable of running for public office and winning an election.

As with any election, candidates have to talk to the press at some point to be seriously considered. Miller said he’s not worried about VIC “fumbling” a question from reporters. Unlike human politicians, who are susceptible to slipups, offenses and corruption, Miller sees AI as nonpartisan, focused on a prescribed goal and without worldly wants.

“I told my model, ‘Hey, you are running for mayor of Cheyenne.’ I gave it a few other things that I thought would be helpful for it,” said Miller, describing the foundational background for VIC. “I told it to try to be funny and it's going to be doing a lot of voting and to look at things with a critical eye and to not be wishy-washy once you do vote.”

Wyoming mayors have the powers to appoint officials to lead local departments, vote in city councils, and veto local legislation, to name a few. Miller said technically all of these powers are done in collaboration with individuals who look at reports, studies and surveys, and then help the mayor make a “Yay” or “Nay” decision. This is how Miller plans to use VIC, with Miller simply operating as the physical yes or no signature in the real world, or a “meat avatar,” as Miller calls it.

“I want this AI to do 100 percent of the mayor’s voting in the chamber,” said Miller. He said he visited a city council meeting, where city officials referenced documents over 400 pages long. Miller thinks this is where VIC outshines humans with its ability to pour over data and make a conclusion in moments.

“When it's concerning Cheyenne ordinances, I think that's its bread and butter. I think [VIC] can do it. It's really good at it,” said Miller.

With Miller operating as a physical voting hand for VIC, that could leave concerns of AI operating based on Miller’s bias. However, Miller said his bias won’t be a problem for AI like VIC, due to a focus on data-driven decision-making.

“I tried to foster biases into it just to be sure the intellectual power of the model itself would be able to shield itself from those attempts,” said Miller. “I don't think that VIC is biased one way or the other. I think he's got a good grasp of what the reality of this world is and he moves according to that understanding.”

However, when pressed on how VIC would make a decision between a theoretical Democratic-leaning plan to accept federal funds for a passenger train to Fort Collins, and a Republican-leaning plan to avoid taking federal funds for such a massive project, Miller suggested that any AI holding office may want “human input” to better reflect the political leanings of the town or city. However, Miller reiterated that VIC was an attempt to pull away from political divides such as the suggested hypothetical and “just see where the raw analysis of data gets us.”

The raw analytic data analysis approach relies on VIC’s computing power, an energy intensive process. Miller said he’s considered ways VIC could improve itself, especially as he’s in a state that produces 12 times more energy than it uses.

“I [could] have VIC write an ordinance,” explained Miller. “That [would] allocate some of the city's funds or energies or whatever into making it to where the citizens have better access to him. Maybe he has a better memory, that there's greater transparency. Stuff like that. And then we would vote on that as the voting body and hopefully get it.”

Miller also pledged that he would donate half the mayoral salary to a nonprofit and that the other half could be used to continuously improve VIC.

“If this scales, we [may] find out that, hey, we don't need a mayor and we don't need congressmen. We don't need a president. These things we thought we needed were just archaic things that brought us to this point,” said Miller. “And now with this new intelligence, we are in a new world.”

VIC vs. Humans

While Miller has big plans for VIC, and has picked up media attention for running an “AI” chatbot in Wyoming, it’s not 100 percent guaranteed voters will see him on the ballot this year.

Miller claims he’s on the ballot, running as himself with the intention of VIC operating the office of mayor through him.

“We don't live in a world where VIC the entity can sign up and be an elector option in this system,” said Miller “So hence, me. I am the meat avatar and I did everything by the books.”

Secretary of State Chuck Gray has launched an investigation and suggested to local officials to not allow VIC on the ballot.

“We are monitoring this very closely to ensure uniform application of the Election Code,” wrote Gray in a letter to the Cheyenne city clerk. “Wyoming law is clear that, to run for office, one must be a ‘qualified elector,’ which necessitates being a real person. Therefore, an AI bot is not a qualified elector.”

Miller remains confident that he’ll appear on the ballot regardless of the secretary's comments, stating, “I interacted with my city government and I think the city clerk is going to have my back because that's the office I went into. They knew they were dealing with Vic Miller.”

Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee told Cap City News the situation was something new and they’ll “cross that bridge when we get to it.” That bridge is coming up, as ballots must be ready by the first week of July.

However, even if Miller is on the ballot, there are still regulatory threats to his AI future. OpenAI, the company that created and operates ChatGPT, has said that Miller’s creation and intention violate their guidelines.

“We've taken action against this GPT due to a violation of our policies against political campaigning," OpenAI spokesperson Liz Bourgeois told WIRED.

Should that happen, Miller has stated he would move VIC to an alternative AI platform, such as Meta. Meta has not returned a comment to Wyoming Public Radio on the matter by the time of publication.

Despite the recent setback, Miller said, “All systems are a go! OpenAI have informed me that my custom GPT will not be allowed in the public library of GPTs and that only I will have access to it.”

If Miller does in fact appear on the ballot, he’ll still have to beat out five other candidates, including incumbent Mayor Patrick Collins. Despite the obstacles, Miller continues his campaign, with VIC at the center, running to be the first AI elected to office in Wyoming, alongside his meat avatar.

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.

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