Here in the United States, one of the most popular and most attended events to watch are the Presidential Elections that take place every four years. Whether or not we agree with the candidates that are running for one of the most powerful positions on the planet, it can be exciting to see how the Electoral process actually unfolds, and to see those numbers appear on our television screens as the political maps from all of the major news stations display which candidate has won each state.
Probably the most climatic event is when either candidate is gaining those 270 Electoral Votes (or more), where in the end one side will declare victory and the other side will concede defeat. In the 1984 elections one of the largest margins of victory occurred with Ronald Reagan defeating Walter Mondale 525-13. But the most memorable Presidential election was likely the race between Al Gore and George Bush.
The major news networks initially declared Bush the winner but later retracted that as the popular votes in Florida were too close to call. Over the coming weeks, the American people sat in awe as the legal wrangling and manual counting of each ballot to confirm the winner in the state of Florida. Ultimately George Bush won, 271-266.
Traditional campaign tactics give way to technology
To win votes and get their names out in front of the American public, Presidential candidates have traditionally relied upon the tried and tested means of mudslinging television ads, speeches of great promises and aspirations of things to come, mass mailings, telephone calls, donations, door to door knocking, pounding the pavement, buying billboards space, and other tactics.
But, as the pace of technology has advanced in the last decade or so, the traditional methods described above are fast becoming obsolete. Instead, the Presidential candidates in recent elections and those yet to come now rely on sophisticated digital media tools and technological platforms to gain the necessary votes. In other words, political campaigns at all levels are now becoming virtual in nature. One such tool that is making this happen is the use of artificial intelligence, or AI for short.
What Is Artificial Intelligence?
AI can be specifically defined as follows:
“It is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning (the acquisition of information and rules for using the information), reasoning (using rules to reach approximate or definite conclusions) and self-correction.”1
It should be noted that there are two types of AI:
- Weak AI: This is where the system is trained for one specific task, and at times requires human intervention. Typical examples of this include Siri and Cortana, the Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) for the iOS and Android platforms, respectively.
- Strong AI: This is an AI system that actually possesses human cognitive abilities, but on a very general scale. It finds solutions to unfamiliar tasks, without any human intervention. This is the type of AI that is favored by the politicians when running their campaigns.
How AI can be used in political campaigns
Here are the areas in which AI can be used by the politicians to help them win their campaigns:
- The harnessing of all information and data that is generated. One thing that the 2016 Presidential campaign proved was that using Social Media tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest can be pivotal in capturing the necessary votes, especially in elections that are too close to call. Social Media can even be powerful when a currently sitting President uses it. A prime of example of this is former President Donald Trump, where one of his tweets could substantially move the financial markets, especially when it related to matters of the tariffs being placed on China. But these Social Media tools can also generate a great deal of valuable demographic and personal information/data about potential voters. By using an AI system, a politician and his or her staff can, within minutes, aggregate all this data and find any trends that might be used to their fullest advantage to win an election. This would otherwise require a professionally trained Data Analyst and a very expensive computer system which might cost as much as $200,000.00.2 An AI system costs a fraction of that amount, especially if it used as a hosted service offered through one of the major Cloud providers such as the Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.
- Monitoring research and media. Rather than having to hire a full-time staff to keep up with what the opposing political party is doing, and how the media is reacting to all the TV commercials and online ads, a carefully trained AI system can do all of this. There is already an AI application being used to handle these specific tasks, and it is offered by an entity known as “Veritone.” Their AI system can monitor up to 750 live streams per day. It can also monitor podcasts and YouTube videos and create transcriptions of the verbal dialogue that takes place.3
- The micro-targeting of various voter groups. Once again, an effective AI system can be used to data mine or even data warehouse huge amounts of voter information and data (we are talking about Terabytes and perhaps even Petabytes of data) that can be used to identify the mood of potential voters, how they have voted in the past, their party allegiances and preferences, etc. All of this can then be used to target very specific voter groups in the remotest of areas and localities in the United States, in an effort to capture their votes, and win a too-close-to-call election.
- Engage individual voters: An AI system can also be used to reach out to and communicate with individual voters. This can be accomplished with the use of chatbots and discussion forums on the candidate’s campaign website. Having a personal touch with voters can pay huge dividends when it comes time for voters to cast their ballots.
- Prevent the spread of false rumors. Presidential elections in the United States are notorious for the spreading of false information and rumors about candidates. Nowadays, this is often broadcasted on Social Media. The result is that voter preferences can be swayed in the opposite direction in a matter of seconds. A good AI system can monitor all such activity and traffic, and even put a grinding halt to it by reporting such behavior to the appropriate authorities and even sending messages to the opposing party to put a stop to any false innuendos.
- Gauging political risks. Mobile apps can be created with the use of AI to calculate the risks that are inherent if a candidate loses the attention of their potential voters. For example, a politician can quickly ascertain if a voter loses interest in their platform; when and how they should be reengaged; what to do if they switch to other party after they initially committed to you; and how to recapture the attention of a potential voter after they have visited the money donation section of a campaign website but didn’t commit to making a specific donation.
This article has made clear the tremendous advantages AI offer candidates running for office. However, as with any powerful tool, there are security issues and vulnerabilities to be aware of. Those concerns will be addressed in the next article in this series.
Ravi Das is a Cybersecurity Consultant and Business Development Specialist. He also does Cybersecurity Consulting through his private practice, RaviDas Tech, Inc. He also possesses the Certified in Cybersecurity (CC) cert from the ISC2.