When is it time to start worrying about artificial intelligence interfering in our democracy? Maybe when an AI writes a letter to The New York Times opposing the regulation of its own technology.
That happened last month. And because the letter was responding to an essay we wrote, we’re starting to get worried. And while the technology can be regulated, the real solution lies in recognizing that the problem is human actors—and those we can do something about.
Our essay argued that the much heralded launch of the AI chatbot ChatGPT, a system that can generate text realistic enough to appear to be written by a human, poses significant threats to democratic processes. The ability to produce high quality political messaging quickly and at scale, if combined with AI-assisted capabilities to strategically target those messages to policymakers and the public, could become a powerful accelerant of an already sprawling and poorly constrained force in modern democratic life: lobbying.
We speculated that AI-assisted lobbyists could use generative models to write op-eds and regulatory comments supporting a position, identify members of Congress who wield the most influence over pending legislation, use network pattern identification to discover undisclosed or illegal political coordination, or use supervised machine learning to calibrate the optimal contribution needed to sway the vote of a legislative committee member.
These are all examples of what we call AI hacking. Hacks are strategies that follow the rules of a system, but subvert its intent. Currently a human creative process, future AIs could discover, develop, and execute these same strategies.
While some of these activities are the longtime domain of human lobbyists, AI tools applied against the same task would have unfair advantages. They can scale their activity effortlessly across every state in the country — human lobbyists tend to focus on a single state — they may uncover patterns and approaches unintuitive and unrecognizable by human experts, and do so nearly instantaneously with little chance for human decision makers to keep up….