Nov 3, 2020

Bots could decide the outcome of the US election ... again

Machine Learning
US election
Harry Menear
3 min
As the US heads to the polls, the result of the 2020 Presidential Election could once again be decided by AI bots and disinformation campaigns
As the US heads to the polls, the result of the 2020 Presidential Election could once again be decided by AI bots and disinformation campaigns...

Four years ago, the US election was hugely impacted by disinformation campaigns and targeted advertising. Targeted political content on Facebook and Twitter, backed by political parties, special interest groups and foreign governments spread fear and misinformation on a scale that undoubtedly swung the result in the favour of the Trump campaign. 

It was later found that almost 19% of all tweets made about the election in 2016 were sent by bots. It was also revealed that people retweeted content created by bots at more or less the same rate at which they retweeted human-generated content. 

Now, the same technology may be about to do the same thing again. “Why hasn’t meaningful progress been made to stop the spread of disinformation on social media platforms? Two words - bad bots,” writes Pascal Podvin in a recent article for Security Magazine.

The potentially devastating impact of hundreds of thousands of automated accounts spreading misinformation and propaganda is undeniable. Undecided voters in swing states are being targeted with reactionary content. Black and Latino voters are being targeted with content designed to engender cynicism and despair.  

The ongoing Republican conspiracy theory over Vice President Biden’s son, Hunter, reportedly even stemmed from a fake intelligence document that made unsubstantiated claims that the presidential candidate’s son had problematic ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The author of the report, Martin Aspen, has since been identified as a fabrication. His profile picture was created using an AI face generator. Regardless of the report being discredited, right wing media and the Trump campaign have clung to it as a major part of the campaign’s platform, and has “moved from the fringes of the internet to more mainstream conservative news outlets,” according to an article by NBC. 

The ability to manufacture convincing evidence and then disseminate said evidence to a willingly gullible audience is probably the most powerful political tool in history. Tomorrow (and throughout the rest of November as votes are counted), the US polls will decide whether the country has grown sufficiently wise to the tactic - or indeed, even cares. 

The really troubling this is that, given how successful AI-powered bots were at influencing the election four years ago, the current generation of AIs targeting the 2020 election are exponentially more capable. 

“Back in 2016, bots used simple strategies that were easy to detect. But today, there are AI tools that produce human-like language,” said Emilio Ferrara, a data scientist at the University of Southern California in an interview with Nature. “We are not able to detect bots that use AI, because we can’t distinguish them from human accounts. These bots survive longer on social-media platforms and can create botnets, which are networks of bots that push the same messages.” 

However, Ferrara is cautiously optimistic. He noted that, today, the number of people retweeting Twitter posts made by bots has dramatically decreased. “In 2016, I was worried that no one was paying attention to social-media manipulation. Today, the situation is different: there are millions of eyes on this. Governments and companies are involved in monitoring social-media platforms,” he added.”

Whether or not the increased efforts by social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, in conjunction with expanded research and governmental oversight, is enough to stymie the influence of bots and other AI-based tools on this year's election remains to be seen. However, it’s abundantly clear that these tools have been used over the last four years to hand the Republical party a presidency. If they hand the Trump administration another four years, that’s another four years that the issue will almost certainly go unresolved. 

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Jul 23, 2021

New government strategy to put UK ahead in global innovation

3 min
The government’s Innovation Strategy aims to set out plans to confirm the UK’s position as a leader in innovation and enable advancements in technology

The UK government’s plans to increase private sector investment into elevating the UJ’s position in the global innovation race have been outlined in a new Innovation Strategy developed and launched by the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng. The strategy is part of the government’s “long-term vision” to boost private sector investment in R&D across the UK, enabling tech companies such as mobile networks to create new technologies. 

While the private sector is important in boosting R&D spending, the government says that the UK “is still committed” to increasing annual public investment in Research and Development with the aim of reaching a record US$30.2bn (£22bn). 

What will the Innovation Strategy allow the UK government to do? 

By adopting the Innovation Strategy, the government claims it will be able to achieve several other goals. These include:

  • Ensuring government procurement is proactive and supportive, providing a route to market for innovative new products and services
  • Consulting on how regulation can ensure that the UK is well-placed to extract the best value from innovation
  • Commissioning the Regulatory Horizons Council to consider how best to support innovation through regulation, including looking whether there are a set of high-level guiding principles for regulation that may apply broadly to any sector of innovation
  • Introducing new High Potential Individual and Scale-up visa routes, and revitalise the Innovator route to attract and retain high-skilled, globally mobile innovative talent
  • Undertaking an independent review to assess the landscape of UK organisations undertaking all forms of research, development and innovation
  • Reducing complexity for innovative companies by developing an online finance and innovation hub between Innovate UK and the British Business Bank within the next 12 months
  • Expanding IP education programme for researchers and launch International IP Services to bolster innovative companies’ and researchers’ ability to confidently collaborate, export and invest overseas
  • Publishing of a new action plan on ‘Standards for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, promoting standards that enable innovation to flourish
  • Investing £200mn (US$275mn) through the British Business Bank’s Life Sciences Investment Programme to target the growth-stage funding gap faced by UK life science companies
  • Supporting 30,000 senior managers of small and medium-sized businesses through Help to Grow: Management to boost their business’s performance, resilience, and long-term growth

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement that “the UK can look back on a proud history of changing the world through innovation. From the industrial revolution to the vaccine development of the past year, the impact on our everyday lives is undeniable.

“That spirit of discovery is still alive in this country today, but we have not always turned our genius for innovation into jobs and companies here in Britain.

“The countries that secure leadership in such transformational technologies will lead the world, enjoying unrivalled growth, security and prosperity for decades to come – and it’s our job to ensure the UK keeps pace with the global innovation race”.

The organisation added that through the long-term plan, it aims to “rekindle our country’s flame of innovation and discovery”, and to aid businesses in taking the “vast opportunities” brought about by innovation.

“If we get this right, we can build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow, and ensure British firms are at the front of the pack to turn world-leading science into new products and services that are successful in international markets”, the organisation concluded. 

To implement the strategy, the government plans to work with universities and research organisations with five projects receiving part of £127mn capital injection through the Strength in Places Fund, which is delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

In addition to the Strength in Places Fund, £25 million of funding for the Connecting Capability Fund will help drive further economic growth through university-business innovation.


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