How does TikTok know what you’d like to watch?
Or Spotify know what you’d like to hear? Or Amazon what you’re most likely to buy? They all use AI (Artificial Intelligence) to predict and sway your behavior.
Their goal is to show you ads or sell more, but similar AI technology can also be used to influence your vote and take over elections. The apps analyze what you like, what you respond to and are smart enough to immediately present you with messages that you’re likely to engage with. And if they get it wrong, they are smart enough to change course and do better. These AI apps can engage total strangers they know nothing about, or someone who they have purchasing (or voting) data on. Same technology, different purpose.
Remember reports of Republicans spreading false information on Facebook with the help of Cambridge Analytica to suppress Black voters? That was primitive in comparison to what’s possible now with AI. How is AI different than traditional approaches using data mining and social media ads? How do apps learn so much about you so quickly? How are political campaigns using AI?
This infographic was inspired by “An AI-driven political campaign could be all things to all people” by Archon Fung, Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government, Harvard Kennedy School and Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law and Leadership, Harvard University.
AI based political persuasion
Campaigns have evolved with technology. Traditional approaches like campaign ads delivered the same message to large audiences with little feedback on how effective the message was. Social media improved message targeting by letting campaigns send specific messages to certain groups, and find ‘look alike’ audiences or people with similar characteristics. But the messages being delivered were mostly generated by humans who would analyze how each campaign message resonated with the target audience.
Companies like TikTok, NetFlix, Spotify and Amazon succeed by presenting you content to watch or things to buy in realtime. Their software algorithms are designed to keep you engaged and buy things. Everyone is presented with content that is personalized to them individually. Not as a group or a ‘look-alike’ audience. AI has the power to have millions of such personalized conversations at the same time.
This infographic shows how political message creation and refinement have evolved. How the communication channels to deliver persuasion messages expanded. And how the level of message customization improved.
“AI could use automation to dramatically increase the scale and potentially the effectiveness of behavior manipulation and micro-targeting techniques that political campaigns have used since the early 2000s. Just as advertisers use your browsing and social media history to individually target commercial and political ads now, AI apps such as the hypothetical like Clogger would pay attention to you – and hundreds of millions of other voters – individually.
First, its language model would generate messages — texts, social media and email, perhaps including images and videos — tailored to you personally. Whereas advertisers strategically place a relatively small number of ads, language models such as ChatGPT can generate countless unique messages for you personally – and millions for others – over the course of a campaign.”
Machine learning creates more effective messages
“AI would use a technique called reinforcement learning to generate a succession of messages that become increasingly more likely to change your vote. Reinforcement learning is a machine-learning, trial-and-error approach in which the computer takes actions and gets feedback about which work better in order to learn how to accomplish an objective. Machines that can play Go, Chess and many video games better than any human have used reinforcement learning.
AI messages could evolve in order to take into account your responses to the machine’s prior dispatches and what it has learned about changing others’ minds. Clogger would be able to carry on dynamic “conversations” with you – and millions of other people – over time. Clogger’s messages would be similar to ads that follow you across different websites and social media.” – The Conversation
“The president could elected not because his or her policy proposals or political ideas persuaded more Americans, but because he or she had the more effective AI. The content that won the day would have come from an AI focused solely on victory, with no political ideas of its own, rather than from candidates or parties… In this very important sense, a machine would have won the election rather than a person. The election would no longer be democratic, even though all of the ordinary activities of democracy – the speeches, the ads, the messages, the voting and the counting of votes – will have occurred.
Voters would have been manipulated by the AI rather than freely choosing their political leaders and policies.” – The Conversation
TakeAway: Understand how AI can be used to take over elections and what can be done to restrict such manipulation.
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