Indian expert-led study at UK university, warns of possible adverse impact of AI-use in elections

11th May 2024
Indian expert-led study at UK university,  warns of  possible adverse impact of AI-use in elections
AI Magazine cover Fall 2023 and Deepak Padmanabhan of Queen's University Belfast UK

Anand Parthasarathy

With an estimated 40 percent of the world’s population going to the polls this year – including the world’s biggest and oldest democracies -- India and the US – the burgeoning use of Artificial Intelligence in elections has emerged as a major concern.

A research team at Queen’s University, Belfast (UK) led by India-born AI expert, Dr Deepak Padmanabhan has released a new study that warns  that “the use of AI  in election administration  could  pose serious threats to the democratic process”.

The team’s findings suggest that the use of AI technologies such as video monitoring of electoral activity to address fraud could impair the integrity of elections if widely adopted. They call for a public conversation around the use of AI in crucial electoral processes, including the administration of mailing lists, voter identification, and even the location of polling stations.

Dr Padmanabhan, Senior Lecturer at the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is joined in the research by Professor Muiris MacCarthaigh,  from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics; and early-stage researcher Stanley Simoes from the School of EEECS.

One of the key issues highlighted by the researchers is the use of facial-recognition technology at polling stations. Despite its high accuracy rate, research has shown it to be less successful when used with people of colour, females, and younger people. This potential for disenfranchising minority groups is of significant concern.

Admittedly  this is not an issue in India, where  such technologies, while deployed in scenarios like DigiYatra  for airline passengers, are not being used in the ongoing General Elections.

Deep fake videos

But the  use of  deepfake videos – falsely attributing  provocative statements to celebrities --  has been noticed in India which is  half way through its electoral process. In a May 7 advisory to political parties, the Election Commission warned against misuse of AI-based tools to create deepfakes that distort information or propagate misinformation, emphasizing the need to uphold the integrity of the electoral process 

Professor MacCarthaigh comments: “There has been quite a lot of debate already around the use of fake news, ‘deepfakes’ and other misinformation to influence election campaigns and manipulate voters and results. But there hasn’t been much focus on the core, administrative elements of the election process – in fact, we believe our research to be among the first, if not the first, in this area. We don’t think AI is widespread yet in core electoral processes, although it is being used in some jurisdictions, particularly in the US and parts of Asia. The literature on this is very limited, which is partly what motivated us to want to dig deeper.”

Dr Padmanabhan added: "It’s very likely that AI will become pervasive in election administration in the near future so we’re raising a flag in order to prompt and inform a public debate. We’re not saying it’s necessarily all bad, but our research uncovered several, significant concerns."

The research has been , published in  the  Fall 2023 issue AI Magazine and  is among the first to explore the impact of AI on 'core' electoral processes

The research team's findings serve as a call to action, urging policymakers, electoral authorities, and the public to engage in informed discussions about the role of AI in safeguarding electoral integrity. As AI continues to permeate election administration, proactive measures must be taken to ensure that democratic principles remain paramount.

The full article can be read here
This article has appeared in New India Abroad