Artificial intelligence meets real politics
Last Wednesday, OpenAI — an artificial intelligence research company — released ChatGPT, a dialog-based artificial intelligence chat interface for OpenAI’s pre-trained language model, to the public. In theory, the artificial intelligence is capable of debugging code, engaging in complex conversations, and even writing a scientific paper about itself.
In practice, well, I tested ChatGPT the same way everyone else did over the past week — I asked it to do my homework for me:
Write an opinion column explaining why Nevada should be the first state in the nation in the presidential primaries.
As a resident of Nevada, I am proud to say that our state should be the first in the nation in the presidential primaries. Here are a few reasons why:
First, Nevada is a diverse and representative state. Our population is a mix of urban and rural residents, and we have a significant Hispanic population, which is an important voting bloc in national elections. This means that the results of the primary in Nevada are likely to be more reflective of the country as a whole than the results in a state with a more homogenous population.
Second, Nevada has a long history of holding early presidential caucuses, which gives us experience and expertise in conducting these important elections. Our state has proven itself to be capable of handling the logistics of a presidential primary, and we have the infrastructure in place to ensure that the process runs smoothly.
Third, holding the first presidential primary in Nevada would give our state a larger role in the national political conversation. It would put Nevada in the spotlight and give our citizens a greater voice in choosing the next president of the United States.
In conclusion, Nevada should be the first state in the nation in the presidential primaries because of our diverse and representative population, our experience and expertise in conducting early presidential caucuses, and the opportunity to give our state a larger role in the national political conversation. We are ready and eager to take on this important responsibility.
Not bad, but there was a key ingredient missing from the analysis:
Okay, now rewrite the column but this time reference the Culinary Union.
As a resident of Nevada, I believe our state should be the first in the nation to hold presidential primaries for several reasons, including our strong and influential Culinary Union.
First, the Culinary Union represents a significant portion of Nevada's workforce and has a long history of advocating for workers' rights. This means that the issues important to the union, such as healthcare and fair wages, will be front and center in the primary election.
Second, the Culinary Union has a strong track record of voter turnout and engagement, which will help ensure a high level of participation in the primary election. This will help to ensure that the results of the election are representative of the broader population.
Third, the Culinary Union has a national presence and is known for its political activism, which means that the issues it champions will be of interest to voters and political analysts across the country. This will help to elevate the importance of the Nevada primary and make it a key event in the presidential election process.
Overall, I believe that Nevada's strong and influential Culinary Union makes our state well-suited to be the first in the nation to hold presidential primaries. By bringing important issues to the forefront and ensuring high levels of voter participation, the union can help make the Nevada primary a critical event in the presidential election process.
There we go — now we have a perfectly serviceable opinion column. Add another 1,500 words, a few dozen em-dashes (those “—” characters I liberally sprinkle in my columns), a pop culture reference from at least two decades ago, some paragraph-length run on sentences, then shoehorn in a too-clever-by-half metaphor or two and nobody will know the difference.
This isn’t, however, the first chat-driven artificial intelligence I’ve interacted with. Like many people my age, I had far too much fun asking Cleverbot inappropriate questions and laughing at its answers while I was supposed to be doing my homework during college (plus ça change, &c.). Consequently, I had an idea or two about where ChatGPT might struggle. For example, if I asked it to generate something new, something novel — if I asked it to express some opinion nobody ever bothered to write before — would it succeed?
The answer was about what I expected.
Okay, now write an opinion column explaining why Connecticut, which was the last state to hold their presidential primary in 2020, should be the first state to hold their presidential primary in 2024.
As a resident of Connecticut, I believe our state should be the first in the nation to hold presidential primaries in 2024 for several reasons.
First, Connecticut is a diverse and representative state, with a mix of urban, suburban, and rural communities. This means that the results of our primary election can provide a good indication of how the rest of the country will vote.
Second, being the first state to hold a primary would give Connecticut a greater voice in the national political conversation. By casting our ballots first, we would have the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the primary season and influence the direction of the election.
Third, Connecticut has a history of being a swing state, with a track record of accurately predicting the winner of the general election. This means that our primary election results can be a valuable source of information for candidates and political analysts alike.
Overall, I believe that Connecticut is well-suited to be the first state in the nation to hold presidential primaries in 2024. By providing a diverse and representative sample of the country, giving our state a greater voice in the national political conversation, and having a track record of accurately predicting the winner of the general election, Connecticut can play a crucial role in the presidential primary process.
Nobody cares about Connecticut, not even… Connecticutians? Connecticuticles? (According to the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual, 2016 Edition, the official demonym for a resident of Connecticut is “Connecticuter,” though “Nutmegger” is also frequently used.) Consequently, nobody cares who — ahem, Connecticuters — believe would be the best candidate for President for the same reason nobody cares who… New Hampshireians? New Hampshters? (“New Hampshirite'' is the official demonym for a resident of New Hampshire) —
Point being, nobody’s written a column suggesting Connecticut should be the first state in the nation to select any party’s president (probably — though Connecticut has admittedly been around long enough for a Founding Father or two to presumably start a presidential campaign in the Nutmeg State, our current system of using binding primaries and caucuses to select presidential candidates didn’t exist until 1972).
Consequently, ChatGPT can’t just computationally summarize dozens of columns and letters to the editor about Connecticut’s worthiness of being first in the nation like it can whenever some intrepidly resourceful and efficient columnist from Nevada asks it for some algorithmically-generated conventional wisdom about which state should be the first presidential primary in the nation.
What it can do, however, is insert Connecticut as the subject of every other column about which state should host the first presidential primary in the nation. Trouble is, most of those columns are about Nevada, which has surprisingly little in common with our nation’s fifth-oldest state.
Unfortunately, though ChatGPT might be convinced by all of the persuasive effort spent trying to convince anyone who would listen that Nevada would make the ideal state to start a presidential campaign in, all of that effort proved to be for naught. President Biden, the most powerful Democrat in the country, isn’t a natural language model swayed by the volume of nearly identical opinions extolling our state’s worthiness.
No, Biden is an old-school politician, one who believes political parties exist to (re-)elect candidates, not to advance abstract high-minded data-driven ideals. Consequently, when the Democratic National Committee opened the topic of changing the party’s order of presidential primaries, Biden didn’t carefully examine census tables for demographic diversity, he didn’t instruct his staff to perform a careful statistical analysis of state electoral vote distributions against previous presidential outcomes, and he certainly didn’t train his brain several gigabytes-worth of opinion columns.
Instead, he did something almost charmingly quaint — he rewarded his most loyal supporters and instructed the Democratic National Committee to make South Carolina, the first state he won in the 2020 presidential primary, the first presidential primary in the 2024 campaign season.
Unlike us younger folks who sometimes view the arcane processes handed down to us by our Super President-filming ancestors as timeless institutions, Biden is old enough to remember how presidential candidates were selected before both political parties brought some binding populism into their nomination processes following the disastrous 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. He’s also old enough to remember how that nomination started — with Eugene McCarthy putting up a surprisingly strong showing in the New Hampshire primary against an unpopular presidential incumbent.
Biden, in other words, is not interested in becoming the next Lyndon B. Johnson.
Biden is also old enough to remember why everyone started caring so much about Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses in the first place — a relatively unknown peanut grower from Georgia bet the farm on the first caucus in 1976, hoping to use that seemingly unlikely success to propel him through the Democratic presidential nomination and into the White House. For Jimmy Carter, at least, it worked — the same, however, cannot be said for Dick Gephardt, Tom Harkin, or Pete Buttigieg, who each tried the same strategy in 1988, 1992, and 2020, respectively.
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that being first in the nation has little direct predictive power. A first state’s voters can disqualify a candidate, as New Hampshire’s did in 1968, but first-state voters aren’t always the most reliable selectors of eventual winners. Since little known candidates routinely spend all of their time and resources on the first state to earn that much-needed win — fighting desperately to be the next Jimmy Carter — they frequently run out of steam after they get their early win, especially once they start digging for support in states other, better known and funded candidates have been visiting for months.
None of that, however, will prevent pundits from doing their best ChatGPT imitation — from taking a sample size of one, no matter how idiosyncratic, and extrapolating it to fifty even if the details don’t fit. It just turns out that singular sample will be South Carolina instead of Nevada.
David Colborne ran for office twice. He is now an IT manager, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne, on Mastodon @[email protected], or email him at [email protected].