A few years back, many of us would not have believed that social media could have significantly affected a political election. Telling somebody that Facebook or Twitter would become the political communication tool of choice would have sounded absurd. But that is no longer the case. In fact, most of us appreciate the power social media now has in politics and its level of influence. What is now common knowledge was at one time something that seemed completely far-fetched. Understanding this, it might therefore not be so difficult to see how AI in politics might pose an even greater risk.
Believe it tor not, political campaigns and AI use are already becoming common. AI companies have already entered into this field with surprisingly impressive results. At the same time, academic research is highlighting just how significant the use of AI in politics might be in the coming years. Several aspects of AI contribute to these trends as do certain aspects of human nature. And it’s important that we recognize this if we wish to avoid manipulation. In a battle between man and machine, we could become the political robots unless we appreciate what’s on the horizon.
“If a fictitious and simplistic algorithm like ours can achieve such a level of persuasion without establishing actually customized profiles of the participants (and using the same photographs in all cases), a more sophisticated algorithm such as those with which people interact in their daily lives should certainly be able to exert a much stronger influence.” – Dr. Helena Matute, Faculty of Psychology and Education, University of Deusto, Spain
The Power of Manipulation of AI in Politics
Data algorithms used by Google and Facebook notably influence our opinions and perspectives. By gathering information about the articles we read, videos we watch, and more, they spoon-feed us content. This had tremendous effects in recent presidential elections, and other countries routinely include this in their political strategies. It’s no wonder that these same considerations are now evolving into political campaigns and AI use. AI in politics is simply a more sophisticated way to affect how we see various candidates and policies. And research is showing that strategies in this regard don’t have to be overly complex.
In recent research conducted in Spain, researchers provided a simple algorithm to participants and assessed their responses. The AI program showed them photographs of candidates with either explicit or implicit messages linked to AI. Explicit messages explained some candidates were ranked higher than others. Implicit strategies showed some candidate’s photographs more frequently. The results showed that even this basic algorithm led participants to choose the preferred candidate. This is how political campaigns and AI use can affect outcomes, perhaps without us even knowing.
“Trust for computer systems is usually high right at the beginning because they are seen as a tool, and when a tool is out there, you expect it to work the way it’s supposed to, but hesitation is higher for trusting a human since there is more uncertainty.” – Reza Moradinezhad, Masters of Science, Drexel University
Human Nature Playing a Role
In the current political climate, roughly half of people do not trust the media. In addition, most of us are polarized toward one political point of view or the other. This feeds into the use of AI in politics for a few reasons. Those wishing to influence public opinion only need to provide facts from a trusted source to fuel these polarized perspectives. By tapping into our emotions, this can be easily achieved. At the same time, we tend to perceive AI as being more trustworthy when compared to other people. These are major reasons that political campaigns and AI use are becoming more common.
To support these statements, researchers have shown that we have these biases in favor of AI machines. In a study performed at Drexel University, researchers compared participant responses to AI in politics versus human reporting. The initial tendency was for the participants to have a higher degree of trust for the AI avatar than another person. This is simply because they perceived a greater degree of complexity with human responses. In contrast, the message of political campaigns and AI use was presumed to be less biased. As a result, AI messages tended to be more impactful.
“I don’t want to make out that I think politics is unethical. Trying to make the world better, in whatever dimension you can, is a good thing … But from our perspective, [AI use in politics] was, you know, ‘noisy.’ We do believe this is an important technology that should be out there and should be in a broader set of hands than just the tech giants, who are already very good at it.”- Marc Warner, CEO and Co-founder of Faculty
The Future of Political Campaigns and AI Use
The use of AI in politics goes beyond academic research. As mentioned, countries are already engaged in this new type of warfare. (Read about how China has long been leveraging social media to wage war against the West in this Bold story.) Major corporations like Google and Facebook are already involved to a degree. But increasingly, there is a demand for political campaigns and AI use. One such company that recently contracted with a political campaign in the UK was Faculty. Faculty is a British AI enterprise that offers AI-as-a-Service for a variety of industries. One of these industries has been politics with the company recently involved in a public referendum entitled Vote Leave. Likewise, it has also been involved in some post-Brexit policies as well. In both cases, AI helped achieve the desire political goals.
For Faculty, the experience was not one they wish to repeat. Being involved in political campaigns and AI use goes against the company’s mission long-term. But that doesn’t mean other AI companies won’t jump at the chance. And if a company like Faculty has already received nearly $57 million in funding, imagine that a political AI business might collect. In the future, some suggest we will no longer watch news reports and human anchors. Instead, we will be bombarded with AI avatars that attempt to influence us using data they’ve gathered about us. The only tool we have to combat these efforts is our own insights and awareness into their intentions. AI in politics is clearly evolving and will play an increasing role in campaigns and elections. It will be up to us to keep it in check if we wish to have a say in the future of society.
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