By Dr. Darren Wilkins
In developing countries especially Liberia, when elections are held, voters’ decisions are never based on or guided by any solid intelligence or knowledge about the candidate or his/her policies. In fact, it is a common phenomenon to see citizens base their voting decisions on factors such as: the candidate’s popularity, political affiliation, ethnic or religious values, emotions, tribalism, political rhetoric, candidate’s educational background, or the amount of money (aka CASH VIOLENCE), that the candidate spends on them (voters).
Arguably, this could be attributed to poverty and illiteracy. And so, candidates especially politicians, take advantage of these social and economic challenges, to campaign using lies, empty promises and commitments which they cannot fulfill after winning elections. When this happens, voters would have to wait for those elected officials to complete their tenure, before getting another opportunity to vote for a new group of leaders in hopes that “GOD” might send them better leaders, if not a messiah. Because of this, many nations remain underdeveloped, poor, and heavily dependent on international aid. Indeed, this is saddening!
From the beginning of time, Science and Technology have been known to change the way we live. And so, we should ask ourselves, what if Science and Technology could change our voting paradigm? What if disruptive technologies, including intelligent machines and advanced analytics, reach the masses to guide their voting decisions? What if these technologies can provide an “intelligence mechanism” that has the ability to guide the voting decisions of both the literate and illiterate populations?
What if this “intelligence mechanism” also has the potential to enable politicians win elections? More importantly, what if this “intelligence mechanism” has the ability to help us elect good leaders? And, if this “intelligence mechanism” is able to impact our elections, does it even exist? The answer to the last question is a resounding YES, and it is called ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE or AI.
In the following paragraphs, I try to explore the potential uses of AI during elections in Liberia. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive attempt to explore the potential uses of AI in elections but rather an attempt to give readers something to think about.
Before going further, let me inject a definition of Artificial Intelligence from Techopedia.com, and it goes like this: Artificial intelligence or AI is “an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans.” Basically, what this definition tries to tell us is that, the “intelligence machines” used in AI are embedded with human intelligence such as: visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. AI includes machine learning which is the scientific study of algorithms and statistical models used by computers to perform specific tasks. These tasks are performed without using explicit instructions, but rather, they rely on patterns and inference instead. AI’s algorithms are designed to make decisions, often using real-time data. They use sensors, digital data, or remote inputs. They combine information from a variety of sources, analyze those materials instantly, and act on the insights derived from data compiled. As such, they are designed by humans with intentionality and reach conclusions based on their instant analysis.
During elections, AI can be leveraged in two major ways by both the voters and candidates. The first way is to enable the former (voters) rely on AI to provide the intelligence that will help them decide which candidate would be the best leader. The second way is to enable the latter (candidates), use AI to determine and probably influence voters’ decisions, based on data collected on those voters through various media, especially social media. Some folks might argue that in an economically challenged nation like Liberia, candidates only have to buy or pay their way to political leadership. Quite frankly, I agree with those who make such an argument. Yet, I would also argue that even in Liberia, AI could still do some good for candidates. And, that there will come a time when those factors that previously and currently drive voters’ decision ( money, candidate’s popularity, poverty, illiteracy, ethnic or religious, values, emotions and tribalism, etc), will have absolutely no impact in Liberian elections.
With AI and its capabilities, the possibility of whether a candidate will succeed or fail after being elected, can be determined. This can be done by doing an analysis of the candidate’s past and present history, and juxtaposing that analysis with what is considered the “ideal” scenario. This can be achieved by using the right algorithms.
Now, let me provide some insight into how AI could help guide a voter’s decision during elections. The first thing we need to know is that AI is dependent on data. Therefore, in cases where data is available about a candidate or where a candidate has a huge digital footprint, AI will collect data on that candidate’s past and present educational, financial, political and social history, etc. Other data on the candidate’s past and current contributions to the people and society, criminal, marital records (if there are any) will be collected and form part of the “training data” used in the process. Succinctly put, every other piece of information about a candidate’s life in the past and present will be collected and analyzed.
Then, using various algorithms, AI analyzes the data compiled on the candidate taking several other factors into consideration, including: the candidate’s ability to lead, integrity, patriotism, qualifications, decision-making ability, ability to handle and tackle current and future issues, and the candidate’s understanding of national and global issues (politics, economics, culture, etc,). The entire analysis involves a juxtaposition of a candidate’s past and present activities (history) with current and projected future trends in the country and the world, to determine future performance.
The results from such an analysis will then be used to guide a voter’s decision during national elections. Ok, by now, I am sure you are asking a lot of “WHAT IF” questions. Rest assured that more research is being done in this area to provide answers to all of the “WHAT Ifs”.
On the other hand, candidates can leverage AI to strategize and win votes. Again, let me reiterate that this comes down to the use of data (collected from various media) to understand voters and how they plan on voting. This is not a new phenomenon, of course. In fact, the use of AI in elections has been around for quite some time. For example, former U.S. President Barack Obama executed the largest artificial intelligence (AI) operation ever seen in politics.
In 2012 former President Obama hired a machine learning expert, Rayid Ghani to his campaign team. Ghani used analytical tools to gather voter data from social media, as well as other sources, in order to predict how likely individual voters were to support Obama, whether they could easily be persuaded into voting for someone else, and how likely they were to actually be at the polling stations come election day. Ghani’s team ran 66,000 simulations nightly, and based on the results, they knew exactly what doors to knock, who to call, and what to say. Ultimately, Obama won the Presidency!
A few years later, current USA President Donald Trump used AI on an even bigger scale to win against Hilary Clinton. Trump hired Cambridge Analytica to help secure his victory over Hilary Clinton. The same firm used AI successfully in “Brexit Leave” campaign.
Besides providing intelligence, AI can also play a major role in illustrating the incredible power of modern propaganda. By using things like Bots, or fake social media profiles to spread political propaganda, AI stands to be major catalyst in future democratic elections.
When the issue of using AI to provide guidance to voters during elections emerges, candidates, especially politicians argue that AI cannot be relied on to guide voters’ decisions because there is a possibility that it (AI) might omit certain things. For example, a person who was once “bad” can be reformed and therefore, that person’s history should not have any impact on his ability to succeed in the future. Some would invoke the names of biblical characters like Saul/Paul who was initially a “bad man” but later became a saint.
I wonder though, how would they respond to voters who will inquire about their contribution to society? That is, whether they contributed in the past or not? Would they say, “I didn’t contribute in the past but I am going to contribute if you vote for me?” There are still more questions to answer when the issue of AI in elections, especially in Liberian elections emerge. One thing is certain though, at some point, AI will be injected in Liberia’s elections. And, politicians will not be the ones advocating for the use of AI, especially the ones with not-so-good history. It will be the civil society, international community, patriots, researchers, etc, who will advocate the use of AI in Liberian elections as well as elections in other developing countries.
The future winners of political campaigns may not necessarily be those with the strongest ideas, good looks, popularity, or the most money, but rather those who know how to leverage AI. The importance of AI in politics is only going to grow. Finally, I have provided a brief insight into how AI could impact our national elections. The questions of whether it can work and what happens if it does work in a poverty-stricken nation like Liberia, I leave to you!