What Now? AI, Episode 5: This Is Not Real

Artificial intelligence presents new opportunities to strengthen democracy even as it threatens to cast a shadow over election integrity and further the spread of misinformation.

In the fifth episode of What Now? AI, University of Toronto hosts Beth Coleman and Rahul Krishnan are joined by experts Harper Reed and Peter Loewen, who is also from U of T, to explore the impact of AI on the political realm.  

Listen to episode five on AppleSpotifySoundCloudiHeartRadio and Amazon. Watch episode five on YouTube

Loewen, director of U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and a professor in the department of political science in the Faculty of Arts & Science, explains how AI removes the human touch from politics, potentially making the public uneasy.

“We still don't like the fact that it might be a machine that we're talking to,” said Loewen, who is also the associate director of the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society.

“But then if you layer on this dimension of not knowing if this is actually the campaign that’s doing it, I think that’s probably orders of magnitude worse because what it does is it takes us from the realm of kind of feeling uneasy about something into feeling like this thing is corrupted.”

Reed, meanwhile, spoke about his experience as the chief technology officer on former U.S. president Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.

“The technology we built was not about convincing someone at the time that Mitt Romney was a bad person or a good person,” said Reed during a conversation with Coleman about AI and democracy that was filmed live at the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society’s annual conference Absolutely Interdisciplinary, a portion of which was used in the podcast episode.

“The tech was more about making sure you got to vote.”

When asked about the biggest threats to AI and democracy, Reed emphasized that he is less worried about the technology itself and more with ensuring it’s beneficial to societal use. 

“I’m worried about who has access to it and how they are using it.”

About the hosts: 

Beth Coleman is an associate professor at U of T Mississauga’s Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology and the Faculty of Information. She is also a research lead on AI policy and praxis at the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society. Coleman authored Reality Was Whatever Happened: Octavia Butler AI and Other Possible Worlds using art and generative AI. 

Rahul Krishnan is an assistant professor in U of T’s department of computer science in the Faculty of Arts & Science and department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. He is a Canada CIFAR Chair at the Vector Institute, a faculty affiliate at the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society and a faculty member at the Temerty Centre for AI Research and Education in Medicine (T-CAIREM)

Note: The artwork in the background of Peter Loewen’s interview belong to the Mirvish Family’s private collection. The large image, titled Floating Free, is by K.M. Graham. The smaller image is untitled and by the same artist.