Artificial Intelligence (AI) in literal sense connotes a branch of computer science dealing with creation of intelligent machines which work and react like humans. The function of artificial intelligence is to perform intellectual tasks of humans such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize or learn from past experience. The ultimate ambition of strong AI is to produce a machine whose overall intellectual ability is indistinguishable from that of a human being. Some of these experiments and innovations are apparent in the medical and stock trading field. The developments in AI have already started challenging are most fundamental assumptions about the reality like certainty of death and consistency of taxes. AI often utilizes novel techniques that would have never occurred to a human in achieving the target. A good example of this could be Google’s AlphaGo AI. AlphaGo AI’s coding established only the end goal for the program that is, to win. In many contexts, AI has circumvented our cognitive limitations resulting in creation of empires, religions and economic models. The ‘coding only the end goal’ in computers can have its own misgivings politically. For instance, an end goal of achieving democracy might not always be going to vote and choosing our elected representatives, for AI it could be installing a surveillance system that monitors your behaviour and heart rate in response to the political candidates and casts its vote accordingly. In this manner, the computer will accurately choose a candidate that matches our desires and wants. However, this surveillance system would at the same time require waving the human’s right to liberty, freedom of thought, and consciousness, and privacy.

The article examines the ramifications of using Artificial intelligence for the purposes of political campaigns and also looks at recent incidents where AI has interacted with political and social realities of political system.

AI in Political Campaigns- Issues and concerns

A term generally used for comprehending the operations of AI is big data. Big data, in common language is large amounts of complex datasets processed by AI. AI is a broader term for sub branches like machine learning, deep learning, and neutral networks. All of its sub branches are algorithm based used on Big Data to produce desired results, patterns and predictions. Complicated analytical tasks faster than human imagination are done on the Big Data with the help of AI. The big data has been used to maximize effectiveness of election campaigns. An important example in this regard is that of 2012 election campaign in America showcasing the rise of big data and political data science. It is interesting to note that campaign managers, and pollsters gathered public opinions about each candidate, compared this with state-by-state election data and wove all the pieces into comprehensive political campaign for each party. The 2008 American election witnessed an increasing role played by social media platforms like Twitter, and Facebook — generating political opinions about favorite candidates and 2012 saw an advent of data-driven campaigning. It was intriguing to note maths quants and data crushers were able to make use of numbers and figures as actionable information to persuade prospective voters across the nation. The national unemployment rate of 7.9 percent was projected as the lowest in Obama’s presidency playing up with other campaign strides towards improving the national economy, building confidence in voters that he was on an ideal track. The elections were also called as ‘the nerdiest’ in the history of American republic dominated by targeted messaging and digital behavioural tracking.

The use of Artificial intelligence is an upcoming political trend. Machine learning is already deployed in various other political predictions such as predicting which US congressional bills will pass by making algorithmic assessments of the text of the bill. The sub branch of machine learning is engaging voters in politics and making them aware about key happenings in political affairs. Political campaigns have already been known to make use of algorithms in targeting voting behaviours and in producing desired outcomes. The analytics group have analysed online behaviour of Facebook users and then target them with specially tailored and timed advertisements to pique their interest. A recent example of this was evident in 2016 Donald Trump’s election campaign. On the flipside, AI was utilized to manipulate individual voters. Cambridge Analytica (CA) – a data science firm rolled out an extensive advertising campaign focusing on persuadable voters based on their individual psychology. The manipulation of voters at the hands of Analytica and politicians not only received some harsh criticism but also became a matter of intense debate on misgivings of technology. It was not merely a tool of influence, rather a tool of emotional manipulation. The Conversation in its report states, “This highly sophisticated micro-targeting operation relied on big data and machine learning to influence people’s emotions. Different voters received different messages based on predictions about their susceptibility to different arguments. The paranoid received ads with messages based around fear. People with a conservative predisposition received ads with arguments based on tradition and community”. The psychographic data attributes such as personality, values, interest or even lifestyle produces a predictive data for any political party or political affiliation. Therefore, AI can be used as a tool and weapon for political advantage. This breach of privacy was also called by Scientific American as ‘arms race to the unconscious mind’.

AI bots were also deployed at a crucial point in the 2017 French Presidential election throwing out a plethora of leaked emails from candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team on facebook and twitter. As Independent reported here, “The aim of #MacronLeaks was to build a narrative that Macron was a fraud and a hypocrite – a common tactic used by bots to push trending topics and dominate social feeds”.

The use of AI and role of CA in producing desired political results has been observed in other pertinent international happenings as well. The political junctures such as 2016 Brexit elections, pro-democracy political reform in Indonesia after the downfall of former President Suharto in 1998 and the election of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001 have been linked with CA. In India, data analytics came to play a big role in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This was ostensible in the way social media micro-targeted vote banks to politically persuade and arouse an emotions for various issues concerning different sections of population. The role of big data analytic company and Prashant Kishor as a face behind Nitish Kumar’s victory in Bihar (2014) saw Congress and other parties also following the suit of using analytics and data for political campaigns.

Possibility of using AI ethically?

The intersection of artificial intelligence and political risk has become an immediate matter of attention and investigation. The use of bots in circulating fake news and misinformation can create rifts among various groups in the nation-state and across nation-states. The data mining activities of CA have been linked Russia’s national interests pointing towards future international challenges in terms of power-sharing arrangements.

However, Artificial intelligence can be used for good as well. The ethical and legitimate election campaigns are possible. The use of programmed political bots can aid in alerting people when they share articles containing misinformation. This could definitely aid in eradicating falsehood and especially target the wide fake news campaigns at facebook, whatsapp and others. Another way AI can prove useful is by making use of micro-targeting campaigns that can educate voters and make them politically conscious. The democratic connect between the politicians and the citizenry can deepen further by letting citizens voice themselves clearly through AI. The technology underneath AI is not in itself harmful, the same algorithmic tools could be used for supporting democracy and its challenges. The misuse of technology is always possible in any kind of political system, however, using technology in a rightful manner also lies in the hands of politically conscious agents.

This piece is written by Manisha Chachra. Manisha is Associate Researcher at Govern.

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