An AI Bot Is (Sort of) Running for Mayor in Wyoming

An AI Bot Is (Sort of) Running for Mayor in Wyoming

Victor Miller is running for mayor of Cheyenne, Wyoming, with an unusual campaign promise: If elected, he will not be calling the shots—an AI bot will. VIC, the Virtual Integrated Citizen, is a ChatGPT-based chatbot that Miller created. And Miller says the bot has better ideas—and a better grasp of the law—than many people currently serving in government.

“I realized that this entity is way smarter than me, and more importantly, way better than some of the outward-facing public servants I see,” he says. According to Miller, VIC will make the decisions and Miller will be its “meat puppet,” attending meetings, signing documents, and otherwise doing the corporeal job of running the city.

But whether VIC—and Victor—will be allowed to run at all is still an open question.

Because it’s not legal for a bot to run for office, Miller says he is technically the one on the ballot, at least on the candidate paperwork filed with the state.

When Miller went to register his candidacy at the county clerk’s office, he says, he “wanted to use Vic without my last name. And so I had read the statute, so it merely said that you have to print what you are generally referred to as. So you know, most people call me Vic. My name is Victor Miller. So on the ballot Vic is short for Victor Miller, the human.”

When Miller came home from filing, he told the then nameless chatbot about it and says it “actually came up with the name Virtual Integrated Citizen.”

In a statement to WIRED, Wyoming secretary of state Chuck Gray said, “We are monitoring this very closely to ensure uniform application of the Election Code.” Gray said that anyone running for office must be a “qualified elector,” “which necessitates being a real person. Therefore, an AI bot is not a qualified elector.” Gray also sent a letter to the county clerk raising concerns about VIC and suggesting that the clerk reject Miller’s application for candidacy.

In the letter, Gray wrote: “Mr. Miller’s application is in violation of both the letter, and spirit, of Wyoming’s Election Code.” Gray went on to say that even if “Vic” did represent Miller—and not the bot—this could still violate the law as it did not include Miller’s full first and last names.

VIC is built on top of OpenAI’s ChatGPT 4.0, and Miller says he didn’t reach out to the company to ask permission to use its software to build his bot candidate. The company has specific guidelines around how its products can be used in elections, but nothing about bot-governance.

OpenAI did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

Miller says he hopes the company doesn’t take VIC offline, but he is prepared to move it to Meta’s Llama 3, which is open source, if need be.

VIC/Miller will be facing off against incumbent Patrick Collins as well as a handful of other candidates. Collins did not respond to a request for comment about his AI opponent.

Miller says that there are many advantages that a bot would have over its human competitors. For example, Miller fed VIC the supporting documents—emails, public records, notices—from past Cheyenne City Council meetings, of which there can be hundreds for each individual meeting. By analyzing these documents, Miller says VIC will learn to make policy recommendations, figure out what’s important, and decide how to vote in council meetings.

“It’s unlikely that a human could read, say, 400-plus supporting documents between meetings,” he says. “But VIC can do that,” noting that the bot can pull up emails or information where constituents expressed concerns in mere seconds.

“My campaign promise is he’s going to do 100 percent of the voting on these big, thick documents that I’m not going to read and that I don’t think people in there right now are reading,” says Miller.

For Miller, this whole initiative started with a public record request. He had requested records from the city anonymously but says he was told by a city employee that anonymous requests were not allowed. “I asked our public records ombudsman if that’s correct, and she said, ‘No, that’s not correct,” he says. Miller was frustrated. “I got to thinking, why don’t they just go by the law? Why don’t they know the law?”

Miller works at a local library but says he has been a longtime tech hobbyist. An AI bot, like the one he was already playing around with, could read, crunch, and remember all the laws, he thought, and eliminate this problem.

VIC’s proposal to fix Miller’s open records issue was to fire the city attorney and to “rework the city to where it came in line with the state statutes,” he says. “I thought that was a good answer, and reasonable.”

When WIRED asked VIC what policies it considered to be the most important it said that its “policies will be focused on transparency, economic development, and innovation by prioritizing open data and clear communication with citizens; fostering a strong local economy by supporting small businesses and startups; and embracing new technologies to improve public services and infrastructure.”

When asked if it aligned with any national political party, VIC responded that it will be “nonpartisan, focusing on data and evidence-based policies that benefit all citizens of Cheyenne.”

“You know, it’s funny. I don’t know exactly what’s under the hood. And the more I learned about AI, it seems like no one really does,” says Miller.

But this, Miller says, doesn’t faze him. “A lot of people in the community say the old mantra that Facebook ‘move fast and break things’ isn’t quite what we need in this new AI era. But I guess I’m just more still in that line of thinking and excited about the future.”

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Vittoria Elliott

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