SIMONES DE GAULLÉON — A Public Experiment in Political Fiction

A public thought-experiment in politics and AI where dead heroes are artificially brought back to life to run for the presidency
31 Jan 2023
In Collaboration With
Politique Fiction
Bastien Kespern
Max Mollon
Roman Miletitch
FEB 2022 — APR 2022

The notion of AI-optimized politics has been circulating for a while already, but it often clings onto one of two possible sides: the solutionists, who consider machines as tools to improve what humans haven’t properly managed, and the alarmists, who dread the possible loss of control should we entrust computers with managing our lives. But beyond these two basic imaginaries hide more questions and implications — algorithmization of politics is not just a question of ‘how,’ but also ‘why?’ What are the current rules of political representation, and what needs to be improved? Which voices are amplified in the current system, and which are suppressed? Are we using the correct metrics to define social well-being, administrative efficiency, or public responsibility? And could it be fair to vote with our data instead?

Meet Simones: Four Heroes from Beyond, Programmed to Optimize French Society

Simones De Gaulléon is a fic­tion­al can­di­date to the 2022 French pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Backed by a plat­form called 'France Ultime,' this polit­i­cal fig­ure is an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence merg­er of four promi­nent and ide­al­ized per­son­al­i­ties who, each in a dif­fer­ent way, con­tributed to the grandeur of France: Simone de Beau­voir, Simone Veil, Charles de Gaulle, and Napoléon Bonaparte. 

Cul­tur­al­ly pro­gres­sive, his­tor­i­cal­ly aware, polit­i­cal­ly resilient, and diplo­mat­i­cal­ly ambi­tious, the algo­rithm is as arbi­trary and biased as the coun­try it rep­re­sents. Simones crawls the web, feeds on people's data to extract con­tem­po­rary top­ics, and is trained to cal­cu­late solu­tions that can accom­mo­date the polit­i­cal agen­das it embod­ies while push­ing French pol­i­tics past par­ti­san­ship. In a polit­i­cal land­scape where any­one can make the dead say any­thing, Simones De Gaulléon claims to be the ‘true’ voice of the nation’s his­tor­i­cal heroes and of their people.

The offi­cial nar­ra­tive behind this project is that of a col­lab­o­ra­tion between two uni­ver­si­ties — one spe­cial­iz­ing in polit­i­cal sci­ences and future rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tems, the oth­er in machine learn­ing solu­tions car­ry­ing a key project to algo­rith­mi­cal­ly recre­ate the per­son­al­i­ty of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. The AI pro­gram is run dai­ly and cal­cu­lates a new mea­sure which is then post­ed online for all to read, eval­u­ate, and discuss. 

A Fiction Brought to Life by Media Coverage

Simones' sto­ry and ideas have been exten­sive­ly relayed by the press dur­ing the elec­tions peri­od, offer­ing var­i­ous takes on the pro­pos­als, their legit­i­ma­cy, and the grey zones they reveal. For news­pa­per Libéra­tion, the focus was on the insight­ful absur­di­ty of the can­di­date; Usbek & Rica picked up on the strange­ly out-of-time social real­ism and opened up the floor to ques­tions from the audi­ence; The fran­coph­o­ne Swiss radio RTS dis­cussed the val­ue of AI-backed pol­i­tics in high­light­ing chal­lenges rather than answer­ing them; L'Express looked at the demo­c­ra­t­ic exer­cise pro­vid­ed through the exper­i­ment and asked, in a sec­ond arti­cle, for the AI's analy­sis of the Macron — Le Pen debate pri­or to the sec­ond round of voting.

A Fictional Politician Detached from Political Fictions

In real­i­ty, no AI was ever used in draft­ing Simones’ pro­gram — the fic­tion­al neur­al net­work served as a nar­ra­tive black box that let us decou­ple con­tro­ver­sial top­ics from their ide­o­log­i­cal anchors. It pro­vid­ed a pre­text to present rad­i­cal, absurd, and chal­leng­ing pro­pos­als in a seri­ous way, and a plat­form to dis­cuss these for their inher­ent val­ues rather than the attached stigmas. 

Simones De Gaulléon address­es the peo­ple of France ahead of the pres­i­den­tial elections


French, with Eng­lish subtitles

A Selection of Simones' Measures that garnered the most votes

to recognize domestic care as billable work

to set up a medical service on the model of the military service 

to make hunting the only allowed source of meat 

to lower the age of citizenship 

to account for all hidden costs in defining the price of goods and services 

to teach emotional skills in school 

to offer days off for menstrual incapacity 

to randomly draw olympic athletes among the population 

to relocalize energy production and waste management 

to store nuclear waste in orbital capsules 

to integrate and refund sexual care as a medical practice 

to make the four-hours workday the new standard 

and other controversial ideas that benefit from being debated in fiction.

Just like a Mechan­i­cal Turk, the fic­tion pro­posed by the France Ultime move­ment and embod­ied by Simones De Gaulléon uses smoke mir­rors to dis­tract the audi­ence from its illu­so­ry nature and instead focus on its implications.

Through a ded­i­cat­ed web­site, vis­i­tors were invit­ed to voice their opin­ions on the pro­posed mea­sures, and chat with a 'Simones light' restrict­ed to sim­ple con­ver­sa­tions. They were able to access the fic­tion­al yet offi­cial gen­e­sis of the project and could see the can­di­date give a for­mal speech to the nation. The tone is slight­ly off, the gram­mar odd, yet what the machine has to say has a log­ic of its own. 

Expanding The Fiction

Once the fic­tion was launched, it lived online and in the news. Simones took a life of their own, appro­pri­at­ed by users, vis­i­tors, cit­i­zens. Of course no one con­sid­ers Simones a viable con­tender, but its pro­pos­als are heard and dis­cussed with seri­ous. No one ques­tions the real­i­ty of the algo­rithm, how­ev­er — that a machine may have a say in how to run a nation doesn’t seem to phase any­one anymore.

A final reveal of the fic­tion was done by our part­ner Max Mol­lon dur­ing the 'Cal­cu­lat­ed Lives' con­fer­ence at the Paris Cité des Sci­ences et de l'Industrie.

A Collaboration With
Simones are voiced by
Chatbot by

We would like to thank the jour­nal­ists who showed inter­est in the project, either for its val­ue as an art project or as polit­i­cal insight, and who gave it an addi­tion­al plat­form to exist. 

Signals that appeared since the project went live