Ai for President?

JurisdictionUnited States,Federal
Publication year2020
CitationVol. 3 No. 2

David Atkinson*

In this article, the author posits that artificial intelligences ("AI") can (a) be a full legal person, and (b) satisfy all the presidential eligibility requirements as detailed in the U.S. Constitution; therefore, AI can one day be President of the United States. The first part of this article briefly defines the differences in artificial intelligences as well as the possibility of achieving artificial general intelligence. The second part of the article recounts the arguments for and against granting sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence legal personhood. The third part explores the constitutional requirements to be the President of the United States. The fourth section applies our current legal understanding of the presidency requirements to a hypothetical artificial intelligence president. Finally, the conclusion examines whether the intersection of future AI with the Constitution might have implications for current legal and moral debates regarding what it means to be a person and citizen.

Technology companies have made significant advances in artificial intelligence ("AI") since neural network breakthroughs beginning around 2010. Google alone has developed highly accurate driving, translation, facial recognition, and voice-activated devices and robots widely in use. These advances hint at a possible future where AI may be sophisticated enough to earn some rights that would currently be inappropriate, such as full legal personhood. While scholars have examined whether AI could achieve person-hood since at least the early 1990s, none of them explored what this could mean for executive leadership in the U.S. government.

This article is an extension of the personhood arguments. It posits the novel argument that AI can (a) be a full legal person, and (b) satisfy all the presidential eligibility requirements as detailed in the U.S. Constitution; therefore, AI can one day be President of the United States. The article concludes by noting that if humans do not want an AI to ever be president, we should pass an amendment to the Constitution that limits the presidency to only humans with biological brains.

While the explicit focus of the article is on the presidency, the clear implication is that if AI could be president, and we could trust it with decisions ranging from the economy to nuclear weapon usage, then it could also meet the criteria to be a congressper-son, military commander, or business executive. While it may be technically feasible and legally possible for AI to fill roles with great responsibility, we should consider whether that will likely lead to a good outcome and whether we may cede too many key decisions to algorithms.

[Page 89]

Before diving into the analysis of how artificial intelligence could legally become the President of the United States, first consider the following admittedly optimistic scenario, written as a newspaper article, as the basis for this article's discussion and hereafter referred to as the "scenario." Though the footnotes in this scenario provide color, they are not part of the scenario.

President Letni, Then and Now

Washington, DC: There is little one can say about the most famous person in the world that isn't already known. Yet President Ibm Letni1 appears generally unassuming. People don't describe him as handsome. He's quite plain, actually— almost always seen in a dark grey, which conveys a sense of heavy seriousness. Perhaps it helps contribute to the general perception of him as competent, mature, and professional. If people are attracted to anything, it's his intelligence and his unquestioned and nearly infinite political power.

Tonight will be his 29th State of the Union for the United States. This occasion would have been unthinkable when I was growing up, but Congress and the states have long since amended the 22nd Amendment to allow Letni to run for more than two terms.2 Of course, many people initially vociferously opposed such an amendment for various reasons, but the majority of citizens believed it would be foolish to not allow President Letni to serve indefinitely.

Such an overwhelming acceptance of Letni's hold on power was a sharp contrast to how he was perceived when he first ran for the presidency. Letni had no political, military, or even business executive experience during his first campaign. Yet this was only a small part of what made his campaign so intriguing and why the press breathlessly covered every conceivable angle of his run for office.

Many argue he won the first election simply due to the novelty of his background. He was something new and interesting in an arena that had become stodgy and often ineffective. Also, many people probably wanted to say they voted for the first candidate of his kind—someone who broke the mold of what it meant to rise to the highest echelons of political power. At any rate, enough Americans voted for him as a third-party candidate. Pundits and columnists went wild. He won by the slimmest margins and didn't receive a majority of the popular vote. In contrast, he earned over 70 percent of the vote in the most recent presidential election.

[Page 90]

Letni's unusual background matches his unusual contemporary lifestyle. He doesn't have any hobbies. He doesn't particularly enjoy chess and he's never been sailing.3 He doesn't know how to swim, doesn't hunt, doesn't play any sports. He's as much a pure intellectual as anyone can be.

His intellect doesn't make him appear cold, though. He is beloved for his wisdom, calmness under pressure, and his ability to seemingly make the best of many complex and difficult decisions each time.4 His nimbleness when handling uncertainty and balancing divergent interests has drawn comparisons to various heroes from world history. Such claims may have seemed absurd in the past, but now they're almost universally stated and accepted with straight faces.

While President Letni is widely considered an effective communicator, his thought processes can go so deep so fast while contemplating such far-reaching possible conclusions regarding multiple consequences that he must slow down to explain—at least at a high level—how he reasoned from Point A to Point B.5

It helps that Letni's capacity to understand the minutia of almost any topic seems virtually bottomless.6 Most people thought such a grasp would be impossible, but the president has proven his decisions' wisdom on multiple occasions. For instance, military historians have composed thousands of volumes on the Kazak War and how Letni was able to predict adversarial maneuvers with astonishing accuracy and therefore preempt the most significant negative consequences. For anyone who feared Letni was going to be nothing more than a weak intellectual, that War during the second year of his presidency was a turning point. It forged deep respect and trust among many skeptics about Letni's capacity to keep the nation safe in addition to making it prosperous.

[Page 91]

Despite his decades under the brightest lights in the highest seat of power in the world, the greatest controversy of Letni's career is still the moment he decided to run for the presidency the first time. The reason? Constitutional scholars weren't sure he qualified.

There are three thresholds to qualify for the presidency under the U.S. Constitution. (1) The person must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, (2) the person must be at least 35 years old, and (3) the person must be a resident of the United States for at least 14 years.

Letni was from Mountainview, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and there are thousands of documents to confirm that he was at least 35 years old when he first ran for president. Additionally, aside from going abroad on occasion to speak at conferences, he had been a resident of the United States, so he easily met the 14-year requirements.

The question of whether he was natural born and a citizen, though, was hotly contested.

Letni was the result of decades of research by one of the world's most famous technology companies and he was the first machine to appear to have a conscience. Was being created by other humans and having awareness of one's existence the meaning of being naturally born? If not granted citizenship, wouldn't that mean something as intelligent as you and me could be treated as property—a slave that could be forced to suffer simply due to an outdated legal definition? And would it make sense to deprive ourselves of a superior leader just because he was composed of mechanical parts rather than biological matter?

Ultimately the answers to these questions were determined by the people when they elected Letni to office. President Letni affirmed them in his first address to the nation just as he will tonight at the State of the Union. "My fellow Americans . . ."

While AI becoming the president is not a likely scenario in the near future, and perhaps it would not be wise to ever elect an AI, the constitutional legality of it could become relevant by the end of this century.7 Even if AI never runs for president, this scenario is a useful thought experiment that may illuminate the debate over what we mean by personhood, citizenship, and the requirements to be the president. Discussing AI in this context also forces us to view the argument through a pragmatic lens, as opposed to a merely philosophical one. This pragmatic focus highlights the consequences of the arguments regarding personhood and citizenship by forcing us to follow the arguments to their logical conclusions.

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To be eligible to be the President of the United States ("POTUS"), Letni would first have to be a person with all the legal rights and duties that entails. Letni would then need to meet three constitutional requirements. The first part of this article briefly defines the differences in artificial intelligences as well as the possibility of achieving artificial general intelligence. The second part of the article...

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