As artificial intelligence seeps through from every corner, it also spills into news stories that have painted pictures of a subordinate human future where AI may take over the labour market, leaving humans jobless. As technology develops at an exponential rate, for their February Current Affairs discussion, the Political Science and Pre-Law Association at UTM attempted to investigate the influence of AI on society and politics, in the context of immediate personal effects AI may have on us.

The discussion began with exploring how AI is now used in social media and contributes to the spread of fake news by curating user-specific content, in effect controlling the relationship between the nominees and the voters. The discussion also touched on the rapidly advancing technology enabling the rise of AI, which in a way may lead to a reduced emphasis on skill development for humans, as we may become dependent on them for survival.

Looking at how AI can manipulate us through social media, a writer for The Independent, Vyacheslav W. Polonski stated in their August 15, 2017 article titled “How artificial intelligence conquered democracy,” that “there is evidence, for example, to suggest that AI-powered technologies were used to manipulate citizens in Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Polonski continues to describe how under the help of the “data science firm Cambridge Analytica [to generate] an extensive advertising campaign to target persuadable voters based on their individual psychology.” Expanding on this, our group discussion pinpointed that as we are under surveillance through social media, where all our personal information and interests are being monitored online, we are exposing ourselves to the risk of losing privacy and freedom to government control, large corporate companies, and malicious hackers.

As described in Polonski’s article, framing this development within the political context, such as when analyzing elections, voters are being treated like consumers to receive “different messages based on predictions about their susceptibility to different arguments.” He further states, “The paranoid received ads with messages based around fear. People with a conservative predisposition received ads with arguments based on tradition and community.” As a result, we are being manipulated by the content that we favour on social media, making us susceptible to strategic persuasions from politicians that use the technology of AI to track our pattern of online activities.

On a societal basis, the Current Affairs discussion addressed how AI is changing how our brain works. We no longer employ as much effort to strengthen memory consolidation and to build critical understanding of matters since information is readily available to us. Foraging for information and memory consolidation may have been replaced by the practice of simple clicking onto Google. As society increases its reliance on AI, we may be withdrawing the opportunity from ourselves for exploring new and challenging subjects outside our comfort zone.

The conversation also explored a common phenomenon that may have affected many of us deeply, and that are the changes in our communication skills. Due to our dependence on technology, such as social media for communication, the ability to communicate effectively in real life may deteriorate as we lose the sense of how to talk comfortably and professionally in front of people.

The convenience that internet has brought to us such as through online shopping for almost everything, from buying clothes to ordering food—people no longer need to see each other in real life.

The discussion pointed out that as the internet emphasizes mainly video and audio content, increased focus on the senses of sight and hearing can even be used to distort our views of the world. This can be seen in propaganda and promotional videos that extremist groups have used to coax people into becoming followers by glorifying their views and actions. As Fortune writer Jonathan Vanian emphasized in his February 21, 2018 article titled “4 things everyone should fear about artificial intelligence and the future,” AI can now be used to create realistic content that can be used for malicious purposes. He described in his article, “Advances in AI have led to researchers creating realistic audio and videos of […] figures that are designed to look and talk like real-life counterparts. For instance, AI researchers at the University of Washington recently created a video of former President Barack Obama giving a speech that looks incredibly realistic, but was actually fake.” Vanian continued, “This leaves us with concerns about the risky effects that can be produced by the people [that] create ‘fake news reports’ with fabricated video and audio.” With our increasing dependence on internet, our sense of critical thinking may erode owing to the power of AI with the ability to create realistic content. This advancement of technology, as the discussion notes, may lead us to become more susceptible to the opinions presented by so-called “experts” presenting false “evidences” without consciously challenging them.

The discussion group came to a consensus that our future will inevitably be dominated with AI, and we are in a stage of transition where AI is becoming the basis of the function of our society. Questioning how we can face the future with this realization, the group suggested that we may need a group of advocates to raise awareness about AI and take actions, such as signing petitions that prevent big companies and governments from developing and using destructive AI software for military and weaponry purposes. The group also emphasized the importance of introducing critical thinking and computer science in elementary and secondary education. As the group reflected, we may need to equip ourselves with a keen eye for catching the use of AI for malevolent aims and its role in political and social change.