Aren’t Some Lawmakers Forgetting Importance of Government Answers?

Answers by the prime minister and cabinet ministers to Diet questions are not just the statements they make. Such answers are regarded as expressions of the government’s measures and policies and affect society and daily life. Isn’t the importance of these answers being forgotten?

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura expressed his intention to use ChatGPT, a conversational artificial intelligence model that learns using data on the internet and generates natural sentences, in the preparation of answers to Diet questions.

“We’ve tried a few things and I feel they look good enough as answers to Diet questions,” Nishimura said. “If concerns are resolved, we’d like to pursue the possibility of using [ChatGPT] to reduce the workload of public officials in the central government.”

It is true that work related to the Diet has become a burden on early and mid-career national civil servants at the central government’s ministries and agencies.

According to a government survey, during an extraordinary Diet session in autumn last year bureaucrats began preparing answers to Diet questions just before 8 p.m. on average the day before a committee meeting, and they finished at nearly 3 a.m. on average. This is surely due to the late submission of questions by Diet members.

However, it is extremely irresponsible for the government to rely on a conversational AI model for preparing its answers merely due to such a reason.

Among the vast amount of data stored by AI, it is often unclear who input the data and how data entry was made. It is totally unacceptable for the government to allow itself to rely on information with low credibility to prepare the answers of the prime minister and cabinet ministers, which are the basis of national policies.

How to reduce the burden on bureaucrats is an issue that the ruling and opposition parties should resolve by thoroughly submitting their questions as early as possible.

During a committee meeting in the House of Representatives, a member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan asked the prime minister questions based on AI-created questions and answers. Does the lawmaker think that Diet deliberations are merely conversations? This is deplorable for the Diet, the seat of political discourse.

While an increasing number of companies are using conversational AI models to improve business efficiency and promote their services, concerns have been pointed out about the risk of personal information leakage and copyright infringement. Questions have also been raised about whether they diminish people’s ability to think.

Amid various concerns being raised in society, why did Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meet with the chief executive officer of the U.S. startup that developed ChatGPT at the Prime Minister’s Office?

Although they reportedly exchanged opinions on the benefits and risks of AI, the meeting itself may have given the impression domestically and abroad that the government is promoting the use of ChatGPT.

It is important not to focus only on the convenience of AI and make light of its adverse effects. Clear rules are needed as to what extent things should be left up to AI and how to have command of it.

In the West, there is a movement to regulate ChatGPT. As the chair of the Group of Seven advanced nations, Japan should lead the discussion seriously on how regulations and verification should be implemented.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 14, 2023)