How did I use AI in the Selby and Ainsty by-election of July 2023

For several years before the Conservative MP of Selby and Ainsty unexpectedly resigned, I had been running a non-profit, non-partisan organization – the Crowd Wisdom Project – in the adjacent constituency. Mainly, we had been deploying a form of machine learning AI, known as Polis, throughout the UK, often working with councils to help them find consensus on polarising issues.

For those unaware of what Polis is, it is a real-time AI system for gathering, analysing and understanding what large groups of people think in their own words, enabled by advanced statistics and AI-powered machine-learning. It’s an awesome tool, which was created by the altruistic tech geniuses at the Computational Democracy Project in Seattle. Famously, Polis has been used by the Government in Taiwan to create policy in respect of the most divisive issues.

In my town of Harrogate, I had been running a website with twenty ongoing Polis conversations know as the Harrogate District Consensus. For unfathomable reasons, the local politicians had been largely ignoring what the local people really thought about issues. So, when the chance to stand in a by-election, in a constituency just a few miles from my house came up, with the advent of Chat GPT fresh in people’s mind, I just had to stand. And I am glad that I did.

When the election was called, I adapted my blog to a campaigning website, adding 50 Polis conversations. I ran 46 Polis conversations for 46 villages; three Polis conversations for the three main towns; and one cross-constituency Polis, for everyone in the constituency to engage in, about deep moral and political issues.

I then despatched 48,000 leaflets, to every home, with my ugly face on them, directing people to my website to vote on the conversations relevant to them. I also put a team together, including PR and social media, to drive traffic to my site. My pitch was that I would use the AI-driven data to create a manifesto based on consensus and, if elected, I would return to my constituents to see what they thought about the key issues of the day.

As a former lawyer, my view was that a representative should frequently take their client’s instructions, particularly when a situation changes, such as Covid and the invasion of Ukraine.

One week before the election, with the help of a data scientist, we created a manifesto. Now a major criticism I had before I embarked upon this harebrained campaign was that, basically, so many folks told me, people are stupid and horrible; and if I really listened to them, then I would creating a manifesto which would be supporting capital punishment and other wild policies. But my experience of running Polis conversations – run anonymously – is that people, collectively, are wise and, when asked, they wouldn’t want the return of capital punishment, or anything else daft. And my results proved that.

With the exception of the BBC, who were disappointingly biased against independent candidates, the international, national and local media went into a feeding frenzy about my campaign. I was even the topic on Radio Four’s Thought For The Day. To my pleasant surprise, The Daily Mail asked for an exclusive of the manifesto, publishing it on page 2 of their newspaper as well as on their website, notwithstanding that the policies the people wanted were un-conservative: closer ties to EU; pro-wind turbines; demanding of a radical change to the NHS; requesting a transaction taxes on big tech; and they wanted the right to vote for the Prime Minister, etc. All sensible stuff. If only such policies were on offer in this General Election!

How did my campaign vary from AI-Steve’s?

AI-Steve’s brand, website and voice tool is far more impressive than what I did, but he was second to use this approach. And that’s relevant, because the technology had dramatically improved in the last year. His voice interface really is quite brilliant.

I don’t fully understand his schtick – of creators and validators – but I can see that he has the same issue that I had – that is, that he cannot stop people from outside his constituency from interacting with his website.

I wish him well.

How do you foresee AI impacting the future of education and work?

After ditching law, I now run the Harrogate International Academy in Spain and in Harrogate. Unconstrained by dogma, we promote the use of AI. The world of education usually moves slowly. We encourage our students – and I encourage my own children – to engage with this technology, which is only getting better and more pervasive. We see the use of AI as akin to the use of the calculator and spellchecker.


Press Releases

View all press releases

  • Answers to Questions Posed by the AI Politics Blogger, Dominic Griffiths

    Published: June 26, 2024

  • York Press calling; Questions for by-election candidates

    Published: July 10, 2023

  • UK-first Member of Parliament Candidate Powered by AI

    Published: June 21, 2023

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