2024 / Year of elections endangered by Artificial Intelligence

2024 / Year of elections endangered by Artificial Intelligence

Get ready for turbulence. Get ready, because 2024 will be the busiest election year in recent world history. The concentration is really impressive. In June, in the 27 states of the European Union, 427 million voters will go to the ballot boxes to renew the Brussels Parliament, while in November 200 million Americans will choose Joe Biden's successor. In May there will be legislative elections in India, Great Britain and South Africa, three countries which together have over a billion voters. Then it will be the turn of Mexico and Indonesia and the two most fragile democracies such as Venezuela and Pakistan. And there will also be votes in Taiwan, the tiny island of 19 million voters whose independence, long threatened by China, is causing the strongest global concerns.

The result of this electoral overlap is unprecedented and shocking: between January and November, in what we call the "free world", over two billion people will be called to vote.

Not forgetting two other pairs of elections, different and special in their own way, involving Ukraine and Russia. Despite the war and despite the suspension of voting by martial law, in Kiev Volodymyr Zelensky is toying with the idea of ​​holding presidential elections in March 2024 and legislative elections in October. While in March there will be a vote on the other side of the barricade, in Moscow: here, however, another confirmation of the presidency of Vladimir Putin is even more certain than in the past, thanks to the suppression of freedoms in the 20 months that have passed since the invasion of Ukraine.

The problem, of course, is not about electoral concentration but the undue pressure that large autocracies, especially the Russian Federation and China themselves, will exert on most, if not all, of the 2024 elections. The democratic vote risks being contaminated everywhere by "fake news" and being influenced at a distance by the propaganda of social networks.

This has already happened in the past, but in 2024 the interest of Beijing and Moscow to influence public opinion called to vote is even higher. Just think of the European elections, which according to all polls could topple the centre-left majority that has dominated the Brussels Parliament for decades, and shift the axis much further to the right. Consider the political polarization that has poisoned the United States since 2016, and in less than 10 years has created irreconcilable divisions between Democratic and Republican voters and could turn the next presidential election into a conflict akin to the attack on Capitol Hill in January 2021.

But the two big autarkies also have a specific interest in playing on the ambivalence of India or Indonesia, two countries currently in a precarious balance between alliances with Washington and Beijing.

And the risk of outside interference does not only involve large electoral events, those with hundreds of millions of voters. Each pair of 2024 elections has strategic value. South Africa may abandon its traditional role as a "non-aligned" nation to continue its rapprochement with the People's Republic of China. While Mexico and Venezuela may turn into two social powder kegs, Pakistan's political instability risks making it a new global center for Islamic terrorism.

Even more crucial is the political fate of tiny Taiwan, whose economy produces 80 percent of the microprocessors used in the world and has long been at the center of the military-strategic ambitions of Xi Jinping, who would like to swallow the island. . In Taipei, the founder of electronics giant Foxconn, billionaire Terry Gou, is running for president next January, promising to "fix cross-strait relations". In short, Gou presents himself as Beijing's candidate. And it is not difficult to imagine how much pressure China will exert to sway the Taiwanese people's election in its favor.

The Brookings Institution in Washington, a center for studies on global politics and democracy, predicts that next year we will witness "a Wild West of political information and counter-information, capable of manipulating global public opinion because of our limited ability to distinguish the false from the true". And he reports that the problem "will become even more widespread and difficult to unmask thanks to images and videos created with artificial intelligence."

That Artificial Intelligence manages to raise the credibility of "fake news" to the nth degree is already a fact. This is demonstrated by the perfect (and fake, starting with Ronaldo holding up the Palestinian flag) images that littered Twitter-X hours after the terrorist attack with which Hamas shocked Israel and the world on October 7.

A month ago, a study by Microsoft and the University of Maryland denounced the hand of Chinese intelligence after spreading on the Internet the fake news that the devastating fires that broke out in the summer in the Hawaiian Islands were the result of a US military experiment. On social media and around the world, many have bought into the theory that the fires were the product of a new "climate weapon" tested by the Pentagon, a lie effectively reinforced by AI-generated videos and photos.

In the previous months, Russia had flooded global social media with posts suggesting inflated figures for US spending in support of Ukraine and spreading the thesis that those dollars should be better spent in the interests of Americans. It is a game that has been around for a long time. A study by the University of Cambridge found that in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine, in the 24 hours before February 24, 2022, registered Twitter users had increased by over 50,000 – compared to a daily average of around 10,000. – and almost all “non-human profiles”, who support Putin.

As of 2022, Artificial Intelligence has made giant strides. And the big dictatorships have invested a lot of propaganda in it. This is demonstrated by the video - as effective as it is false - in which Biden announced the reintroduction of conscription to send young Americans to Ukraine.

In short, misinformation is powerful and in this record election year risks having catastrophic effects. This, also because countermeasures are limited to modest palliative measures. Since November, Google has decided that it will "require" its YouTube users to "report political ads that use images, audio or text created with Artificial Intelligence". Of course it won't be enough.

*Panorama Italy (bota.al)