AI, Social Media and Political Polarization:Is Our Democracy at Risk?

Fall 2019, Concord OLLI  2 days, 2 hrs each
Fridays Sept 27/Oct 4 10-12AM
David Hess and Jim Isaak collaborators
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Artificial Intelligence, Social Media and Political Polarization: Is Our Democracy at Risk?

            Social media and artificial intelligence (AI) are reshaping our political and electoral processes – and not for the better. Increasingly sophisticated algorithms searching through massive data sets enable political parties, candidates, and nation states to micro-target advertising with messages tailored to small, carefully selected segments of the population that are most susceptible to a particular message, thereby reinforcing the political dispositions of the recipients. Even more perniciously, this technology provides insights into how to tailor that message to most effectively influence those recipients. Online “bots” (automated accounts) can disseminate such messages – both real and indistinguishably fake ones – to millions of online recipients instantaneously – all known only to those who are receiving them. And these methodologies will become even more sophisticated and undetectable as AI advances to  “deep learning”. This technology is contributing to, if not to a significant extent causing, the further political polarization of our population as people increasingly receive only political messages tailored to and reinforcing their own political predispositions to the exclusion of other perspectives and points of view. We will ask: What are algorithms? Bots? Machine learning? Deep learning? How do they work? How do they shape, influence, manipulate, distort and polarize political discourse? And how have they been used historically to shape political thought and influence the outcome of elections as, for example: by ISIS in Iraq ; in the Brexit vote in England; and in our own 2016 presidential election (to mention but a few). And what does the future hold? 

Class 1: Virtualpolitik

1. Introduce, describe and explain the concepts, technology and capabilities of social media and artificial intelligence generally.    "What are algorithms? Big Data? Digital Footprints? Deep learning?  Bots? How do they work?"

2. Theoretically, how can they be used  in the context of and applied to politics and elections generally  -- i.e. "How do they shape, influence, manipulate, distort and polarize political discourse?"

3. "How have they been used historically to shape political thought and influence the outcome of elections".

  • ISIS
  • 2016 Presidential Election
  • 2018 Mid Term Election

Second Class: "What does the future hold?" 

1 Documented practices and evidence of how it has already been used and applied by candidates, SUPERPACS and others in the run-up to the 2020 Presidential elections.

2 What we can expect later in the 2020 Primary and General Presidential Elections. 
3 New tools: Deep Fakes 

Resources -- I'm consolidating a number of classes with related resources on one page

Slides for Class (Sept 2019)