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AI tapped for citizen outreach as India goes to the polls

Political parties in this year’s high-stakes elections are leveraging AI for the first time, but measures to curtail misuse must continue to evolve with the rapid developments of the technology

India, the world’s largest democracy, is gearing up for the 18th General Elections later this week when around one billion voters will select their next national government.

Political parties in this year’s high-stakes elections are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) for the first time in India for citizen outreach. AI algorithms are being used to glean data about voters, including demographics, social media activity and past voting behaviour.

The emergent information helps political parties finetune campaign messages and target voter groups accordingly. By its very nature, AI enables predictive analytics. This works as a natural advantage while gauging election outcomes based on factors such as polling data.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has already had a tryst with AI. In December 2023, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi delivered his speech in Hindi at the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi. The speech was translated into Tamil in real-time through AI with much success.

Consequently, BJP tapped AI to translate Modi's speeches into vernacular languages like Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Marathi, Odia and Malayalam, extending its reach into local communities on social media.

Naturally with AI taking centre stage, it’s no surprise that Google has stepped in to do its bit. The search engine giant has teamed up with the Election Commission of India (ECI) to provide voters with information such as voter registration, polling guidelines and candidate profiles in English and Hindi.

YouTube will also highlight authoritative news sources. There will also be a thrust to watch out for topics prone to misinformation. This is a move towards creating a well-informed electorate. If AI is misused, the consequences could be grave and damaging.

New tools and policies are being put in place to provide voters with clarity on content origins. This is required in matters concerning election-related ads and YouTube videos. Misinformation about EVMs (electronic voting machines) is another area that needs to be tackled. YouTube has addressed the challenge by showcasing the Election Commission’s FAQs on the technical and administrative safeguards of electronic voting. 

Then, there’s the ECI’s cVIGIL app that citizens can use to report incidents of political misconduct. As per reports, over 79,000 violations have been reported so far through the app since the announcement of the general elections, with 99 % of cases resolved.

Meta is also working with its fact-checking partners to find and rate misinformation, including those generated by AI. The partners are being supported by the Meta Content Library, a new research tool that uses visual verification techniques such as reverse image searching to identify fake, manipulated or transformed content.

With so many precautionary measures, it’s obvious that technology is interwoven into the political fabric of India. One such early effort could be traced to 2012, when the BJP used 3D hologram projections of Modi, enabling the premier to simultaneously campaign in many places at the same time.

Strategically, technology was also used in the 2014 General Elections, bringing Modi to political power. Urban professionals and students doubled up as digital volunteers and a large section of millennials came forward to cast their votes. That year, digital campaigning happened through social media, with live speeches streamed in real time through social media platforms.

The political agenda during the 2019 Elections took the use of technology a few notches higher. WhatsApp messages with short videos became a means for political parties to announce forthcoming rallies on social media platforms like Twitter (now X), Facebook, and WhatsApp.

The impact of the use of AI and technology on the 2024 General Elections remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: amid global concerns that AI could be used to interfere with elections, existing safeguards must continue to evolve to keep pace with the rapid developments in AI in order to curtail misuse and ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

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