The work of neuroscientists has given us an insight into how propaganda affects our brain. We now know that propaganda can virtually rewire brains under certain conditions. We also have discovered that it’s difficult to reverse the neural pathways created by propaganda.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is now evolving to the point where it can weaponize the effect of propaganda in our brains. Just imagine a future where AI is used to generate messages that are tailor-made to each individual’s fight-or-flight nervous system. These messages then continue to reinforce that part of the brain that rejects critical reasoning.
We often choose to ignore information we don’t agree with, selecting only the information that confirms our views. This confirmation bias is especially powerful in emotionally charged issues, which propaganda targets. Just imagine if AI schemes are developed so that information contrary to our beliefs never even appears for us on our digital devices.
What if AI is used to alter seemingly authentic information to reinforce our biases and strengthen the hardwiring of our brains? Might some seemingly evocative information become a Trojan horse, leading us to accept falsehoods that our critical reasoning would normally reject?
One looming question for the future of democracy is how we might combat the way AI could evolve as a technology of manipulation and disinformation. Historically, it’s hard to point to any past successes of limiting the use of technology.
Just imagine the power of a future technology elite who feel they have a better sense of what society needs than is reflected through our democratic processes. Could a stealth technology coup be in our future? What if we don’t even notice there was a coup because our brains don’t detect the manipulation that has occurred?
Is this farfetched? Maybe, but what are we doing now to prevent this dystopian future? In the face of the potential abuses of AI, how will we protect our ability to discern the truth that is necessary for genuine democracy?
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“This tool is going to be the most powerful tool for spreading misinformation that has ever been on the internet”–Gordon Crovitz, US media executive, speaking of AI
This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imagining positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.