Is Parliament ready for a House of Bots?
'Peerbot' illustration by Tracy Worrall
This summer, I decided to shake things up by asking my fellow lordships how they would react to being replaced by “peerbots … with deeper knowledge, higher productivity and lower running costs”.
There were audible gasps across the Lords Chamber, followed by a few rather nervous guffaws. I myself have been tempted on more than one occasion to outsource the writing of my speeches to a chatbot and see if anybody noticed.
I had hit a nerve with the media. Having studiously ignored all my contributions in the Chamber over my two years as a crossbencher, social media suddenly took heed and my comment went viral, with photoshopped images of robo-Lords sitting on the red benches and rolling along the corridors of power.
Chat and gossip in the lobbies and tea rooms would be replaced by the clanking of metal and rhythmic hum of circuit boards
A kindly gentleman from Cheltenham (where else?) launched a ‘peerbot’ version of me on YouTube, having paid just £1 for artificial intelligence (AI) voice recognition software to both analyse Parliament TV and mimic my vocal style. I have to admit it was much smoother and more articulate than the real thing – and considerably cheaper.
Reform of the House of Lords remains a long-running, contentious issue, but no one has yet suggested flesh and blood give way to the robotic revolution – a House of Bots, if you will. Let me be the first.
AI-powered peerbots would come fully loaded with every word from Hansard and every piece of legislation enacted since the creation of the UK Parliament in 1707. Their powerful RAM capacity would harvest every bit of research and data that holds any relevance to oral questions, debates, statements and bills.
And yes, these bots would attend every minute of every business day, and effortlessly absorb every detail. Unlike their human counterparts, they would no longer wander around the House getting lost, arriving late or making unhelpful interventions.
Of course, the culture and atmosphere would change – to the horror of the traditionalists. The sound of chat and gossip in the lobbies, corridors and tea rooms would be replaced by the clanking of metal and rhythmic hum of circuit boards lit by the constant glow of LED panels.
But, at last, we would have an accelerated legislative process: data-crunching sessions would replace prolonged debates, with lightning-quick analysis of policy implications.
There would be no waffle, bluster, repetition nor speeches running over time. Razor-sharp binary banter would replace the familiar, oft-repeated jokes we hear in the Chamber today. And – hurrah – no more robotic answers from ministers during questions.
Conflicts of interest would disappear overnight, while the ever-lengthening code of conduct would be replaced by a maintenance manual to keep the bots fully serviced and at the top of their game.
Bots do not need mid-afternoon naps, whether in the Chamber or in the library armchairs. In fact, the library would become defunct. The peers’ dining room would transition into a charging station, and we could wave goodbye to the private offices, bars, tea rooms, cloakrooms and car parks.
IT support would gain the recognition it deserves and become the sole back office function.
The ever-spiralling costs of Parliament’s restoration and renewal programme would be slashed by billions, and the bots would no longer claim daily allowances or expenses.
With this extraordinary boost to productivity and drop in costs, peerbot attention would inevitably turn to reforming the House of Commons where MPs, with their manifest human frailties, would struggle to keep pace. Perhaps we should all be careful what we wish for.
Lord Londesborough, crossbench peer
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