The fascinating world of data analysis has progressed leaps and bounds, with every bit of the digital sphere becoming a potential goldmine of insights. In politics, it has re-written the rules of engagement and redrawing the battle lines in many instances.
Two prominent examples, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, exemplify the profound implications that the intersection of Artificial Intelligence, social media, and politics can bring about.
To begin with, the case of Brexit provides an enlightening illustration. The decision of the UK to exit the European Union was a significant political and economic event with global repercussions. It may seem that the vote was purely a democratic expression of the will of the British people. However, the exploitation of data produced by social media platforms in this saga is a factor that can’t be underestimated.
Algorithms trawled through enormous amounts of data to identify patterns. These algorithms were the product of a specialised field that combines computer science with psychology, economics, and sociology. Using this information, as Cambridge Analitica proudly touted to every one (they defined themselves a “global election management agency“), political strategists were able to target users with tailored content that played upon their fears, aspirations, and biases.
This gave birth to the phenomenon of Fake News. People were targeted with skewed or outright false narratives about the European Union, designed to fuel Euroscepticism. These messages were cleverly designed to resonate with individuals’ existing views and fears, making them more likely to vote ‘Leave.’
Similar tactics were witnessed during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, which led to the victory of Donald Trump. Here, the plot thickened with the alleged involvement of foreign powers. Accusations were made about an army of social media bots, created and controlled by foreign entities, designed to flood American social media platforms with propaganda and disinformation. These bots exploited the divisions in American society, sowing confusion, discord, and distrust.
The episode serves as a warning about the potential abuse of artificial intelligence and social media in political contexts.
These cases point to a potential danger that looms in the future: the prospect of an Artificial Intelligence agent with the capability to influence each voter individually. Imagine a software so advanced that it could craft the perfect argument to sway every single voter. Such an AI could manipulate voters into supporting a candidate not on the basis of their policies or merits but based on its capacity to tap into their fears and desires.
This raises the spectre of a potential ‘strong (wo)man’ figure, reminiscent of past fascist dictators such as Mussolini or Hitler. Such an individual could potentially exploit this AI capability to manipulate public opinion on an unprecedented scale. They could bend the will of the masses to their liking, undermining the very basis of democratic decision-making. In essence, democracy could be hijacked by a powerful AI tool and its unscrupulous handlers.
The idea of a manipulative AI is not purely speculative anymore. The leaps in technological advancements we are witnessing and the existing examples of technology’s role in manipulating public opinion make it a possibility that we can’t afford to ignore.
Unregulated Artificial Intelligence shown its ability to manipulate public sentiment and influence democratic outcomes, as seen in the Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. They have demonstrated their capacity to be used as vectors for misinformation and propaganda.
While the World Wide Web promised more informed and engaged citizens, its conubium with Artificial Intelligence and free-style capitalism gave birth to a three-head Cerberus leading our global society into a dystopian society where a non-sentient (sorry Google Bart) machine will, in the end, control us.
In the face of such threats, it’s crucial to cultivate a digital ecosystem that champions truth, transparency, and integrity. This includes regulations on the use of personal data, stringent fact-checking mechanisms to combat misinformation, and public education on digital literacy. Technological advances in AI must be matched with equal progress in ethical guidelines and accountability mechanisms to prevent misuse.
The digital revolution which started more than 50 years ago with the creation of a network of computers, the Internet, still holds vast potential to enhance democratic processes. However, without appropriate checks and balances, these same tools can become threats to the very ideals they promise to uphold. As we move further into this new frontier, our challenge lies in harnessing the power of these technologies while safeguarding the principles of democracy.
This isn’t just the responsibility of policymakers: first and foremost, it’s the responsibility of people, like us, who are developing products based on Artificial Intelligence.