AI bot trolls politicians with how much time they're spending on their phones

For a bit of good old public shaming, it also posts the footage of the distracted lawmakers on Twitter and Instagram

Photo: The Flemish Scrollers

Sure, we've all snuck a look at our phones in dull meetings. But as it turns out, if you're working on the taxpayer's dime, you'd better be ready for artificial intelligence to call you out for gawping at the black mirror in the legislature when you should be, you know, legislating, as Mashable outlines.

That's exactly what digital artist Dries Depoorter did for his latest installation "The Flemish Scrollers." Now his software that uses facial recognition to automatically call out politicians in the Flemish province of Belgium who are distracted by their phones when its parliament is in session. And ironically or not, the project comes almost two years after Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon caused public outrage after playing Angry Birds during a policy discussion.

Launched Monday, Depoorter's system monitors daily livestreams of government meetings on YouTube to assess how long a representative has been looking at their phone versus the meeting in progress. When the stream starts, his software uses machine learning to find phones in the footage, and facial recognition to identify politicians using the devices. If the AI detects a distracted person, it will publicly identify the party by posting the clip — on Instagram @TheFlemishScrollers, and Twitter @FlemishScroller.

The accused representative will be named and shamed with their social media handles. The bot also politely requests they "pls stay focused!"

According to Depoorter's website, if there is no session in progress, the software will begin analysing and learning from archived livestreams instead. Whether this means the software will routinely post evidence of past distraction wasn't clear. Depoorter did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Mashable, either.

But less than 24 hours into the The Flemish Scrollers going live, the program has already identified four instances of politicians preoccupied by their phones, and sparked discussion among the software's growing social media following.

Still, as some followers have pointed out, the software's tendency to jump to conclusions could be a problem. After all, we can't know what those politicians were up to on their devices; there are times when useful and important work needs doing urgently, even if it is on the same device everyone uses to waste time. Until the AI software starts reading phones over the shoulders of the legislators, then, we'll have to just trust that being watched by a bot can help politicians curtail their Angry Birds time.

Either way, that could be part of “the Flemish Scrollers”'s most powerful impact: raising awareness of AI surveillance creep - and the need to curb it. When the lawmakers become the targets, they may be more eager to regulate the weapons.

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