New Delhi: Jailed Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Political Party is embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and social media platforms like TikTok to engage with supporters to gain their vote in the forthcoming national elections taking place on February 8, 2024.
Facing the constraints of imprisonment, Khan's voice has been digitally replicated using AI to deliver speeches, a strategy reported by the Financial Times as an innovative workaround for his inability to campaign in person.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in political campaigning and elections is not confined to isolated incidents but represents a growing global phenomenon with varied applications and implications.
This digital manoeuvre is part of a broader trend where AI technologies are reshaping the landscape of electioneering. Khan's party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has utilized AI-generated voice messages to disseminate his messages, conducted digital rallies on TikTok, and deployed chatbots to inform voters about candidates.
The use of Khan's jail ID, "Prisoner No. 804," has become a symbol of resistance against censorship and a call to action for his followers, demonstrating the potent combination of AI and social media in modern political mobilization.
However, the advent of AI in politics is a double-edged sword. Reports of deepfakes and voice clones have raised concerns about the potential for misinformation and voter manipulation.
Instances such as robocalls mimicking US President Joe Biden to discourage voting highlight the darker applications of these technologies, emphasizing the urgent need for regulatory oversight and ethical guidelines.
The global conversation around AI's role in politics has intensified, with leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for international cooperation to manage the risks associated with digital deepfakes. The accessibility of voice-cloning tools has sparked fears of widespread disinformation, prompting calls for more robust detection and prevention mechanisms.
The increasing prevalence of AI in political campaigns, from Khan's digital rallies to deepfake controversies, underscores the transformative impact of technology on democratic processes.
As AI tools become more sophisticated and widespread, the challenge for societies worldwide will be to harness their potential for positive engagement and transparency, while guarding against manipulation and falsehoods. This delicate balance between innovation and integrity will define the future of electoral politics in the digital age.
Beyond the innovative tactics employed by Imran Khan's party in Pakistan, numerous other examples illustrate both the potential benefits and risks associated with AI in political contexts.
Enhanced voter engagement
In the United States, political campaigns have leveraged AI to personalize outreach efforts, analysing voter data to tailor messages that resonate with individual preferences and concerns. This approach maximizes the impact of campaign communications, potentially increasing voter turnout and engagement.
AI tools are also being used to detect and combat misinformation. For instance, during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, AI-driven platforms were deployed to identify and flag false information spreading on social media, aiding efforts to maintain the integrity of electoral discourse.
Deepfake campaign ads
In Belgium, a political party released a deepfake video of former United States President Donald Trump delivering a speech urging the country to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. This stunt aimed to raise awareness about climate change but also demonstrated how convincingly deepfake technology can be used to fabricate statements by public figures.
Voter suppression efforts
The misuse of AI extends to efforts aimed at undermining electoral participation. For example, AI-generated voice messages have been employed in attempts to dissuade certain voter groups from going to the polls, exploiting the technology to target and manipulate specific demographics.
International disinformation campaigns
AI-driven disinformation campaigns have been identified as tools of state-sponsored efforts to influence foreign elections, with countries deploying sophisticated AI algorithms to generate and spread disinformation aimed at destabilizing democratic processes.
The European Union has been at the forefront of addressing the challenges posed by AI, proposing regulations aimed at ensuring transparency and accountability in the use of AI technologies, including those impacting elections.
Ethical use and detection
In response to the proliferation of deepfakes and AI-generated disinformation, tech companies and researchers are developing AI-driven tools to detect manipulated content. Initiatives like the DeepFake Detection Challenge aim to foster the creation of technologies capable of identifying deepfakes, contributing to efforts to preserve the integrity of information online.
The expanding role of AI in politics underscores the dual nature of technological advancement—offering powerful tools for enhancing democratic engagement and transparency while simultaneously presenting new challenges in the form of disinformation and manipulation.
As political entities worldwide navigate the opportunities and pitfalls of AI, the need for ethical guidelines, regulatory frameworks, and robust detection mechanisms becomes increasingly apparent, aiming to safeguard the democratic process in the digital age.