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Elections: Concerns never known before

Making sense of Artificial Intelligence (AI) amid the biggest elections in India’s history
03:15 AM Apr 13, 2024 IST | Guest Contributor
elections  concerns never known before

Sarfaraj Nasir


Krishna Sankar Kusuma


As the dates have been announced for the general elections, world’s largest democracy India is gearing up for the grandest democratic festival of the world starting mid April. Not just India, but around 64 nations, including two superpowers US, and UK are going to have national elections this year. That’s like almost half of the global population would be going to vote in 2024. Another superpower Russia had presidential elections and President Putin was re-elected with record margins of votes past Sunday. Here in India, the 18th Lok Sabha elections are poised to be highly significant because of two broad reasons. First, a mammoth 94 crore voters would be eligible to cast their valuable votes, making it the largest election in Independent India’s history, and second it would be India’s first general elections where Artificial Intelligence technology will dominate the election campaigns. Remember, India accomplished a remarkable feat, back then in early 1950s when there were no television, internet, social media sites or AI, by successfully organising the largest ever election in history, with a staggering 170 million registered voters. This event symbolised a major milestone for a newly born nation after enduring centuries of colonial rule. Since then, the “mother of democracy” has come a long way.




Human vs Artificial Intelligence



The Artificial Intelligence Revolution is rapidly spreading, surpassing previous revolutions such as the steam engine and electricity. According to a rough estimate, approximately 40 percent of jobs worldwide are projected to be replaced by AI technology. AI is projected to accomplish this in mere two decades what the Industrial Revolution did in a century. It is important to remember that during the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of steam engines and other machines had a significant impact on employment, as they replaced human workers.


Although there has always been human wisdom that overcame the challenges of technological revolutions, but this time around, challenges are more intricate because many people lack a proper understanding about the potential impact of AI on society. This time around, Machines have not only begun to emulate human thought process, but they have also acquired the ability to learn. These devices have opened their eyes and ears to both positive and negative contents. Precisely because of this, AI is gaining more traction in the political sphere as campaign managers, across parties, use it to enhance their candidates’ reputation and tarnish their opponents. Recent events demonstrate the ease with which deep-fakes was used to undermine political adversaries. Recent Presidential elections, for instance, in Turkey and Argentina, demonstrate how AI has been utilised to generate multiple and alternative narratives in order to undermine trust in the opposition.

AI and threat to Democracy

With the elections approaching, there are significant concerns about the spread of deep-fake audios, videos, text messages, and ads across various websites and social media platforms such as Meta (Facebook), X (Twitter), WhatsApp, Youtube and Instagram. These are being released during a time of intense information warfare. There is a risk that this could result in confusion and benefit propaganda networks. Hence, the issue at hand is how to address the threat of deep-fakes being utilised by propaganda outlets, particularly considering the potential impact of AI on elections in democratic societies. Deep-fake tends to magnify mistakes and offer unreliable information with the intention of swaying voters’ choice and keep citizens away from accurate information, ultimately resulting in disinformation.

Based on the 2023 “Democracy Index” released each year by The Economist, just less than 8 percent of the global population lives in a full democracy, with nearly 40 percent living under authoritarian regimes. India has been categorised as a ‘flawed democracy’ in a recent report, ranking 41 out of 167 countries despite the fact that India’s record of conducting free and fair elections have been impeccable. However, the main factor which weakens democracy identified worldwide was the decline in trust in government and public institutions. Such threats are expected to persist, driven by the increasing use of AI tools to influence the foundations and mechanisms of democracy.

Nevertheless, AI can also be a game changer for the good. The imprisoned ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, used an AI-generated audio clip to connect with his potential voters and address their concerns after his party was prohibited from organising public rallies. He used this powerful communication tool AI to generate content in his own voice and engaged with voters as if they were interacting with face-to-face. This digital version of Imran Khan was a game changer in motivating his supporters, leading to a significant victory for PTI. Hence, asking an assumed question whether AI effectively influence voting behaviour by creating tailored messages for specific groups is immaterial now. It absolutely does.


Challenges of Deep-fakes and Disinformation

During a recent conversation with Bill Gates, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised India’s advancements in technology, particularly in digital empowerment. He, however, underscored the significance of tackling challenges presented by AI, such as deep-fakes. The creation of deep fakes exposes individuals and institutions to vulnerability until the truth is verified. The technological platforms have made the tools more accessible for content creation on digital platforms. For instance, face swapping has become incredibly effortless and precise, thanks to advanced AI tools. Alibaba’s latest addition, EMO: Emote Portrait Alive, along with OpenAI’s Sora, RunwayML, Moonvalley, DomoAI, WonderDynamics, and several other tools, are integrated into the vertical social media platforms. It allows for the creation of highly realistic fake videos and the replication of the voices of celebrities, politicians, or anyone else. It can be challenging for the public to distinguish between what is genuine and what is fake. However, these software programmes are not specifically designed for creating deep-fakes. They are designed for fun and use generative AI to produce creative content too. But, there is a legitimate concern regarding the potential for creating fake information.

Many social media users who contribute their digital labour by uploading content, commenting, and sharing may not fully understand the consequences of spreading fake content. AI bots, whether used by individuals, political parties, or international organisations, will actively be involved in activities such as trolling, creating memes, and making objectionable comments. They will also manipulate the distribution and circulation of messages and content. Thus, the expanding social media influencer community, encompassing people from various backgrounds regardless of religion, region, caste, or gender, has the potential to sway the large communities of followers or subscribers who are exposed to the messages conveyed through their digital platforms and the content they share.


Sensitising the Civil Society

Academics and researchers have raised concerns about the impact and misuse of AI on civil society. India, a country with a rich history of religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity, needs to be more careful in handling of AI technology. Although the National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) by NITI Aayog focuses on leveraging AI that democratise access to crucial sectors like healthcare, agriculture, education, smart cities, and transportation, the implementation of AI technology faces several challenges. Privacy, security, and job displacement are just a few of the challenges that come with the increasing use of AI. At a time when public faith in government, lawmakers, public institutions and corporations are at all-time low, it is more important than ever that we respect and protect the technology from its abuse and misuse.

Technology giants like Google and Meta, have mandated that political advertisements must reveal whether they employ AI. But they still have a long way to go before they can effectively combat the dissemination of false narratives and deep-fakes. It may be the greatest difficulty of our time to maintain faith in the existence of an objective truth in the face of increasingly complex deep-fakes, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. We must prioritise in taking a proactive approach to address these concerns and ensure that AI is used to advance our multicultural society. The intervention of massive technology giants in tweaking algorithms to favour a specific party or leader is a matter of concern. It highlights the need for India to establish AI laws and strengthen the existing IT act.

Dr. Sarfaraz Nasir is a visiting faculty in AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islmia, New Delhi.

Professor (Dr.) Krishna Sankar Kusuma is a faculty in AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.