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Disinformation on steroids: Is the United States prepared for AI's influence on elections? | US News

Disinformation on steroids: Is the United States prepared for AI's influence on elections?  |  US News


The AI ​​election is here.

Already this year, an artificial intelligence-generated robocall targeted New Hampshire voters during the January primaries, posing as President Joe Biden and telling them to stay home, which according to officials, could be the first attempt to use AI to interfere with a US election. The deepfake calls were linked to two Texas companies, Life Corporation and Lingo Telecom.

It's unclear whether the bogus calls actually prevented voters from voting, but it doesn't really matter, said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, a group that pushes for regulation federal and state use of AI in politics.

“I don't think you have to wait to see how many people were deceived to realize that that was the point,” Gilbert said.

Examples of what could happen to the United States are happening all over the world. In Slovakia, fake audio recordings may have influenced an election, providing a chilling warning sign of the type of interference the United States will likely experience in the 2024 presidential election, CNN reported. In Indonesia, an AI-generated avatar of a military commander helped rebrand the country's defense minister as a chubby-cheeked man who makes Korean-style hearts and cradles his beloved cat, Bobby, much to the delight of Generation Z voters, Reuters reported. In India, AI versions of deceased politicians have been brought back to compliment elected officials, according to Al Jazeera.

But U.S. regulations are not prepared to deal with the rapid rise of AI technology and how it could influence voters. Shortly after the fake call in New Hampshire, the Federal Communications Commission announced a ban on robocalls using AI audio. The FEC has not yet put in place rules to govern the use of AI in political ads, although states are moving quickly to fill the regulatory void.

The U.S. House of Representatives launched a bipartisan task force on February 20 to study ways to regulate AI and issue a report with recommendations. But with partisan gridlock in power in Congress and U.S. regulation keeping pace with rapid advances in AI, it's unclear what, if anything, might be in place in time for this election. year.

Without clear safeguards, AI's impact on elections could come down to what voters may perceive as real or not. AI in the form of text, bots, audio, photo or video can be used to make candidates appear to be saying or doing things they did not do, or to harm their reputation, or to mislead voters. It can be used to bolster disinformation campaigns, creating images real enough to confuse voters.

AI's ability to deceive has put the misinformation problem on steroidsLisa Gilbert of Public Citizen

Audio content, in particular, can be even more manipulative because video technology is not yet as advanced and recipients of AI-generated calls lose some of the contextual clues that something is fake that they might find in a deepfake video. Experts also worry that AI-generated calls could imitate the voices of people a caller knows in real life, which could have greater influence on the recipient because the caller would appear to be someone whom he knows and trusts. Commonly known as a “grandparent scam,” callers can now use AI to clone the voice of a loved one to trick the target into sending money. This could theoretically apply to politics and elections.

It could be from your family member or neighbor and it would look just like them, Gilbert said. The ability to fool AI has put the misinformation problem on steroids.

There are less deceptive uses of technology to emphasize a message, such as the recent creation of AI audio calls using the voices of children killed in mass shootings aimed at urging lawmakers to take action against gun violence. Some political campaigns are even using AI to show alternate realities to make their points, such as a Republican National Committee ad that used AI to create a false future if Biden were re-elected. But some AI-generated images may seem harmless at first, like the widespread fake images of people next to carved wooden dog sculptures that appear on Facebook, but are then used to spread harmful content later.

People who want to influence elections no longer need to craft election disinformation, said Chester Wisniewski, a cybersecurity expert at Sophos. Now, AI tools make it possible to dispatch robots that look like real people more quickly, with a single master behind the controls, like that of the Wizard of Oz.

Most worrying, however, is that the advent of AI may cause people to question whether everything they see is real or not, thereby introducing a heavy dose of doubt in an age where the technologies themselves are still learning to imitate reality as best as possible.

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There's a difference between what AI could do and what it actually does, said Katie Harbath, who worked in politics at Facebook and now writes about the intersection between technology and democracy. People will start to wonder, she says, what if AI could do all this? So maybe I shouldn't trust everything I see.

Even without government regulation, companies that operate AI tools have announced and launched plans to limit their potential influence on elections, such as having their chatbots direct people to trusted sources for where to vote and banning chatbots that imitate candidates. A recent agreement between companies including Google, Meta, Microsoft and OpenAI includes reasonable precautions such as additional labeling and education on AI-generated political content, although it does not prohibit the practice.

But bad actors often flout or circumvent government regulations and limitations put in place by platforms. Think about the Do Not Call list: even if you're on it, you're probably still receiving unwanted calls.

On a national level, or among major public figures, the debunking of a deepfake happens fairly quickly, with outside groups and journalists stepping in to spot a parody and spread the message that it's not real. However, when the scale is smaller, fewer people work to demystify something that could be generated by AI. The stories are starting to take hold. In Baltimore, for example, recordings released in January of a local manager allegedly making offensive comments may have been generated by AI and are still under investigation.

In the absence of regulation from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), a handful of states have instituted laws on the use of AI in political ads, and dozens of other states have filed bills on the subject. At the state level, regulating AI in elections is a bipartisan issue, Gilbert said. Bills often require clear disclosures or disclaimers in political ads to ensure that voters understand that the content was generated by AI; without such disclosure, the use of AI is then prohibited in many bills, she said.

The FEC opened a rulemaking process for AI last summer, and the agency said it hoped to resolve it this summer, the Washington Post reported. Meanwhile, political advertisements using AI may be subject to certain state regulations, but are not otherwise limited by any AI-specific FEC rules.

“Hopefully we can get something up and running in time, so it’s not some kind of Wild West,” Gilbert said. But we are getting closer to this point and we must act very quickly.




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