Since the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that corporations are people, why can't computers be politicians?
Watson for president! Better yet, let's make clones of Watson — the computer IBM engineers built to clobber two human Jeopardy! champions last week — and put them to work in Congress and state legislatures.
Machines programmed to make decisions based on facts and logic would be an improvement over many of the human robots controlled by special interests who now run our government.
Big-money influence has always been a problem in politics. But the floodgates were opened last year when an activist Supreme Court majority expanded the legal idea that corporations are people. They overturned decades of campaign finance law and allowed corporations and unions to spend huge amounts of often-anonymous money to influence elections.
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Computer politicians could help solve this problem, because they lack human greed. All computers really need is a cool room for their servers and a little maintenance. As long as they have a steady supply of electricity, they aren't hungry for power.
Engineers could design computer politicians much the way they did Watson. They could fill their electronic brains with rich databases of facts and experience. Then they could write decision-making algorithms based on human logic and American ideals. You know, ideals that human politicians laud in speeches but often ignore in practice — fairness, justice, public good.
Consider how a computer politician could help with deficit-reduction. IBM named its Jeopardy! computer after the company's founder, Thomas Watson. Let's call our computer politician Webster, after that great 19th century statesman, Daniel Webster.
Webster could begin by analyzing how we got into this mess. His database would tell him that federal surpluses turned to huge deficits between 2000 and 2008 primarily because of massive tax cuts and more than $1 trillion borrowed to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Public debt was compounded by a deep recession caused largely by a housing bubble and irresponsible Wall Street speculation. With Wall Street now back to record profits, Webster might suggest a transactions tax on financial speculation to bring in billions to help balance the budget.
Many members of Congress act as if budgets can be balanced and debt eliminated by simply cutting discretionary, non-military spending. Free from human ideology, Webster would use facts and logic to conclude that any serious attempt to solve our financial problems will require ending the wars, curbing health care costs and raising taxes.
Webster's database would show him that today's income tax rates are the lowest in decades — lower than during the boom years of the 1990s, and far lower than during the economic boom that followed World War II. His electronic brain would dismiss the "taxed enough already" crowd, because facts show they are taxed less than in the past.
That is especially true of the wealthiest Americans. Because data show that assets held by the richest 5 percent of Americans have grown from $8 trillion to $40 trillion since 1985, Webster would logically conclude that they can afford to pay more in taxes. And that it would be in the best interest of the nation that created the environment that allowed them to prosper.
Webster's database would show plenty of wasteful government spending to trim — much of it in the huge military budgets that some human members of Congress don't want to touch.
I suspect Webster's electronic brain would recognize the folly of slashing low-cost, high-value government programs such as public broadcasting, Teach for America and AmeriCorps. He would conclude that cutting education is no way to build a more competitive economy. The logic of maintaining oil and coal subsidies while cutting investment in developing the energy technologies that must eventually replace fossil fuels just wouldn't compute.
Decision-making algorithms based on American ideals would never allow essential aid to the poor, sick and elderly to be slashed, while preserving billions in wasteful military spending and subsidies for industries that don't need them.
I'm sure some people will argue that machines can never replace human politicians, because even the best computers lack essential human traits, such as empathy. They have no heart.
I don't see that as a big problem. Many of our current politicians don't seem to have hearts, either.