The Coming Age of AI-Powered Propaganda

Essay by Josh A. Goldstein and Girish Sastry: “In the seven years since Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in part by posing as Americans in thousands of fake social media accounts, another technology with the potential to accelerate the spread of propaganda has taken center stage: artificial intelligence, or AI. Much of the concern has focused on the risks of audio and visual “deepfakes,” which use AI to invent images or events that did not actually occur. But another AI capability is just as worrisome. Researchers have warned for years that generative AI systems trained to produce original language—“language models,” for short—could be used by U.S. adversaries to mount influence operations. And now, these models appear to be on the cusp of enabling users to generate a near limitless supply of original text with limited human effort. This could improve the ability of propagandists to persuade unwitting voters, overwhelm online information environments, and personalize phishing emails. The danger is twofold: not only could language models sway beliefs; they could also corrode public trust in the information people rely on to form judgments and make decisions.

The progress of generative AI research has outpaced expectations. Last year, language models were used to generate functional proteins, beat human players in strategy games requiring dialogue, and create online assistants. Conversational language models have come into wide use almost overnight: more than 100 million people used OpenAI’s ChatGPT program in the first two months after it was launched, in December 2022, and millions more have likely used the AI tools that Google and Microsoft introduced soon thereafter. As a result, risks that seemed theoretical only a few years ago now appear increasingly realistic. For example, the AI-powered “chatbot” that powers Microsoft’s Bing search engine has shown itself to be capable of attempting to manipulate users—and even threatening them.

As generative AI tools sweep the world, it is hard to imagine that propagandists will not make use of them to lie and mislead…(More)”.