New episode of ADAPT Radio’s ‘HumanAIse’ focuses on how AI and Big Data support democracy in a digital age

04 December 2023

ADAPT Radio’s HumanAIse series continues this month as we hear how AI and Big Data can support democracy in a digital age and what elections might look like in the future.

In the 21st century, we do democracy differently. The internet has opened up new channels of information, meaning that citizens can access and contribute to ongoing discussions about policies and governance. So how can AI and Big Data support democracy in this digital age and what might elections look like in our future? To discuss this, our experts this month are designer, artist and strategist, and senior design lead with Democratic Society, Max Stearns and Associate Professor of Digital Humanities and investigator with the ADAPT Centre at Trinity College, Dr. Jennifer Edmond.

The podcast kicks off with a discussion on the social impacts of AI and Big Data led by Dr. Jennifer Edmond. She discusses the impact technological advances have on culture and vice versa while emphasising the point that as technology advances faster and faster, we see societal culture struggle to catch up. She draws upon examples of where technology has been misused, for instance, the ability to create and spread vast amounts of misinformation quickly, particularly in terms of elections. For Dr. Edmond, one of the most important aspects is building trust in an age where some of the facts we have always depended on start to fail us. Max Stearns elaborates on this point by highlighting that we need to consider how this type of technology affects democracy as it also evolves.

Dr. Edmond provides some insight into her European-funded project KT4D (Knowledge Technologies for Democracy). KT4D is investigating how democracy and civic participation can be better facilitated in the face of rapidly changing knowledge technologies to enable actors across society to capitalise on the many benefits these technologies can bring. Dr. Edmonds highlights that the project is looking at how they can build a system that uses the affordances of AI and Big Data, like profiling, without misusing them.

Continuing the podcast, Max provides some insight into The Digital Democracy Lab with the Democratic Society, which presents an opportunity for people to experiment with technology and learn how technology can support our democratic processes. Additionally, the lab addresses questions such as how Machine Learning can be part of our democratic lexicon and behaviours. Max also expounds on the idea of using technology to encourage informed decision making. He discusses imagining digital democracy as something that has the capacity to continually be improved upon rather than considering it a form of entertainment or an experience that is interacted with once by voting. Dr. Edmond also discusses the trust in tools and information, in particular, who we trust as a source of verifiable knowledge.

Finally, both Dr. Edmonds and Max discuss how the rapid advent of AI and Big Data will impact elections going forward. Max wants us to consider the role of AI, whether it is in oversight or information dissemination, could on a positive side, create a more informed electorate and potentially create ways of checking that the democratic process of voting is operating in its intended manner. On the more concerning side, according to Max, AI can increase misinformation and disinformation around elections. From Edmonds’ perspective, it is important we ensure that we have proper safeguards in place with this technology so that cultural practices can keep up. Max also considers where some of this technology will come into play and how it supports our capacity to have long term democratic infrastructure that continues to not just maintain current democratic structures, but to strengthen and reimagine those structures and democracy more generally.

For further insight into the interactions of humans and AI, catch HumanAIse on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Spotify.

ADAPT Radio: HumanAIse is ADAPT’s newest podcast series providing an in-depth look at the future of AI, automation and the implications of entrusting machines with our most sensitive information and decisions.

Adapt Radio is produced by for the Adapt Centre