The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine

Berit Anderson
Feb 12, 2017 · 20 min read

There’s a new automated propaganda machine driving global politics. How it works and what it will mean for the future of democracy.

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Illustration: Cody Fitzgerald

Part 1: Big Data Surveillance Meets Computational Psychology

Any company can aggregate and purchase big data, but Cambridge Analytica has developed a model to translate that data into a personality profile used to predict, then ultimately change your behavior. That model itself was developed by paying a Cambridge psychology professor to copy the groundbreaking original research of his colleague through questionable methods that violated Amazon’s Terms of Service. Based on its origins, Cambridge Analytica appears ready to capture and buy whatever data it needs to accomplish its ends.

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Image Credit: Michal Kosinski, David Stillwell, and Thore Graepel

Part 2: Automated Engagement Scripts that Prey on Your Emotions

Collecting massive quantities of data about voters’ personalities might seem unsettling, but it’s actually not what sets Cambridge Analytica apart. For Analytica and other companies like them, it’s what they do with that data that really matters.

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Image Credit: Cambridge Analytica
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Image Credit: Cambridge Analytica
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Image Credit: Ali Zifan/Wikimedia Commons

Part 3: A Propaganda Network to Accelerate Ideas in Minutes

Meanwhile, surprised by the results of the 2016 presidential race, Albright started looking into the ‘fake news problem’. As a part of his research, Albright scraped 306 fake news sites to determine how exactly they were all connected to each other and the mainstream news ecosystem. What he found was unprecedented — a network of 23,000 pages and 1.3 million hyperlinks.

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Image Credit: Jonathan Albright

Part 4: A Bot Gestapo to Police Public Debate

If fake news created the scaffolding for this new automated political propaganda machine, bots, or fake social media profiles, have become its foot soldiers — an army of political robots used to control conversations on social media and silence and intimidate journalists and others who might undermine their messaging.

The Future of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine

The 2016 U.S. election is over, but the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine is just warming up. And while each of its components would be worrying on its own, together, they represent the arrival of a new era in political messaging — a steel wall between campaign winners and losers that can only be mounted by gathering more data, creating better personality analyses, rapid development of engagement AI, and hiring more trolls.

Scout.ai is currently scenario planning the future of weaponized AI propaganda with our community of scientists, authors, and technologists. Here are some implications that preview that conversation. If you’d like to learn more or get involved, head to Scout.ai.

Implication #1: Public Sentiment Turns Into High-Frequency Trading

Scout: Science Fiction + Journalism

The social implications of technology.

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