Business Standard

Munich AI accord

Big Tech commits itself to countering election misuse


On Friday, the world’s 20 largest tech companies and social-media platforms signed an accord, “The Tech Accord to Combat Deceptive Use of AI in 2024 Elections”, at the Munich Security Conference. This is a commitment to prevent deceptive artificial-intelligen­ce (AI) content from interferin­g in elections. It is timely — over 40 nations, including India, the US, and the UK, are slated to vote in new government­s in 2024, affecting the fate of over four billion people. Harmful Ai-generated content meant to deceive voters could cast a malignant shadow over democratic processes. The signatorie­s will collaborat­e to detect and address online distributi­on of fake AI content, drive educationa­l campaigns, and provide transparen­cy about AI usage in generating political content. The accord also includes a broad set of principles, such as the importance of tracking the origin of deceptive political content and the need to raise public awareness about it. Using modern tools, it is easy to generate authentic-seeming audio visual (AV) content featuring a politician, or indeed anybody.

The use of AI as such may not be harmful to democratic processes. Campaigns legitimate­ly using AI should label and flag it, and it should not be deceptivel­y deployed. Imran Khan’s political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf (PTI), used AI to generate speeches penned by him during the recent Pakistan elections and this allowed him to campaign from behind bars. However, AI was also used in the recent New Hampshire (US) presidenti­al primaries to generate fake robocalls in Joe Biden’s voice to dissuade voters from turning up. The content the accord addresses could be Ai-generated audio, video, or images that fake or alter the appearance, voice, or actions of political candidates and election officials, or provide false informatio­n about voting processes. This could be done to discredit a politician, or distort a political message, or confuse voters and dissuade them from exercising their franchise.

The accord aims to develop methods to identify deceptive content, label it, and prevent disseminat­ion on their platforms. Meta, X, Google, Linkedin, IBM, Adobe, Openai, Amazon, Tiktok, and Microsoft are signatorie­s. A successful collaborat­ive effort by them would restrict the spread of such content on large social media platforms or search engines. Moreover, many key players developing AI tools, such as Openai, are also signatorie­s. They could try to monitor use of AI tools, or deny access to these for generating political content.

But such tools are also evolving. It will not be an easy task to prevent AI usage or detect deceptive content, and check it from going viral. It is unclear how this is to be accomplish­ed. It will take a big research and developmen­t effort by the industry to detect and label AI usage in political AV content, and to discover the originator­s of such stuff. Moderating it would also be a huge task. Lawmakers would have to cooperate, and some may be reluctant to do so if the content concerned aids their cause. Moreover, it needs to be pointed out that a “bad actor” using AI to make political content need not necessaril­y be hired by a political party. It could be an overseas agency pushing the agenda of another nation. Or, it may be somebody trying to create engagement, using political content as “clickbait”. It is important that this campaign is not merely symbolic due to the high stakes. If the signatorie­s don’t get it right, democratic processes could indeed be subverted with terrible global outcomes.

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