Kamala Tackles AI
Recent events indicate that we haven’t heard the last of the least popular vice president in history.
Kamala Harris is a busy veep. When she isn’t extolling the virtues of Venn diagrams or pondering the root causes of illegal immigration, she’s likely poring over the latest scholarly journal articles on artificial intelligence.
After all, if anyone can protect us from the systemic racism of a real-life HAL, it’s Kamala the AI Czar. Or perhaps you’d forgotten the administration’s announcement six months ago that Harris would spearhead its AI efforts? We didn’t. But that’s only because we covered it. Otherwise, we’d have forgotten all about Team Biden’s pledge to take “new actions that will further promote responsible American innovation in artificial intelligence and protect people’s rights and safety,” and about the administration’s “strong record of leadership” in the realm of technology. Uh-huh.
But then Kamala popped up at the American embassy in London last week to discuss not only the promise of AI but also its risks and its potential abuses. She intoned:
Consider, for example, when a senior is kicked off his healthcare plan because of a faulty AI algorithm. Is that not existential for him? When a woman is threatened by an abusive partner with explicit deepfake photographs? Is that not existential for her? When a young father is wrongfully imprisoned because of biased AI facial recognition. Is that not existential for his family? And when people around the world cannot discern fact from fiction because of a flood of AI-enabled myths and disinformation, I ask, is that not existential for democracy?
Ah, our democracy. New polling from AP/NORC shows that voters are increasingly worried about AI’s potential to wreak havoc on our elections. Hey, if the 2020 version was tragedy, 2024 may yet be farce.
These AI questions are good ones, well worth considering. But is Kackling Kamala the one who ought to be leading those discussions? The Spectator’s Angus Colwell, who was there at the embassy last week to take it all in, suspects not. He writes: “The whole speech, terrifyingly, showed that Harris hasn’t really got to grips with AI. She used the language she is comfortable with. She talked of making sure the benefits of AI would be shared ‘equitably,’ and that ‘history will show that this was the moment that we had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for the future of AI.’ She talked about civil rights, which is what she has done throughout her career, often very well too, but not everything is about civil rights. Sometimes the issue really is that this poorly programmed technology might kill all of us, everyone, damn our rights.”
Surely the administration can do better than Kamala Harris. Surely Joe Biden’s handlers have a better AI ambassador than this lightweight. But that’s not what this is about. This is about the ongoing effort to make Biden’s next-in-line seem serious, to burnish her credentials as the One Heartbeat Away Kid.
Earlier this year, when the Democrats began panicking not only about Biden’s unfitness for office but about the disastrous state of his succession plan, lefty columnist Matt Bai went against the grain and suggested that the administration lean into its Kamala Conundrum. “If I were giving Biden advice he surely doesn’t want,” Bai wrote, I’d tell him to steer into the storm rather than away from it, and run with Harris almost as if he expected her to take over. I’d make her a constant fixture at Biden’s side in public events and in the kind of extended interviews she’s mostly avoided doing.“
To be sure, Harris hasn’t been any such fixture. But rather than hide her away, they’ve been trotting her out from time to time, exposing the American people to her, as if to acclimate us to her, even inoculate us from her. It’s as if Biden’s handlers have decided that the answer to his vice president’s historically low approval numbers is to give us more cowbell.
We got a feevuh. And the only prescription … is more Kamala.
Lo and behold, it might be working. Digging into the crosstabs of a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, we find that when voters were asked who they’d choose for president if the options were between Trump and Harris, 47% of Michigan voters chose Trump, while 45% said Harris. That’s margin-of-error stuff. On the other hand, when the matchup is between Trump and Biden, Trump wins 48% to 43%. This is a noteworthy departure from the steady stream of polls that consistently show Harris to be less popular than Biden.
In recent months, it’s become crystal clear that the American people want Joe Biden to shuffle off to Rehoboth Beach and never come back. Even Barack Obama’s old hands are now coming out with the long knives. Trouble is, even if the Democrats can Vaudeville-hook Joe Biden off the stage, Kamala Harris isn’t inclined to follow along behind him. Which is why she’s our AI czar, even though she’s clearly over her head.
In a perverse way, it’s fitting: Our government’s approach to a technology that no less an expert than Elon Musk says is "potentially more dangerous than nukes” will be spearheaded at the national level by an artificial politician who lacks intelligence.
“Everything that human beings are doing to make it easier to operate computer networks is, at the same time, but for different reasons, making it easier for computer networks to operate human beings,” said technology historian George Dyson in his 1997 book Darwin Among the Machines.
That’s a chilling thought, and it’s made all the more so by this administration’s obvious unseriousness about AI.
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