The widespread use of AI presents both immense productivity and potentially catastrophic consequences particularly in the context of elections in US and elsewhere during 2024 Image Credit: Shutterstock

2024 is the year of elections. 60 countries will head to the polls with nearly half the world’s population coming together to shape the foreseeable future and its policies.

In America, incumbent Biden’s support of Israel’s offensive in Gaza and a veto of ceasefire attempts has been met by disapproval domestically. A Biden-Trump standoff as is widely expected in November is being seen as the most inglorious of contests for the biggest office in the world.

A return for Trump to the White House though will be another seal on right wing populism that swept the globe in 2023 rocking even traditional democracies.

Italy under Giorgia Meloni, Geert Wilder’s shock win in the Dutch elections or the success of Viktor Orbán’s far-right nationalist-populist party Fidesz in Hungary have chaperoned uneasy winds into Europe where UK could throw its hat in the ring as well this year. Elections in the country are to be held by Jan. 28, 2025.

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Upheavals at a global scale

It could be a seminal one in South Africa though where for the first time since Nelson Mandela’s freedom and the end of apartheid in 1994, the electorate is debating a life without the African National Congress.

It is also election season in India, the world’s most populous nation where dates are likely to be announced after the ambitious consecration ceremony of the grand Ayodhya Ram Mandir. Narendra Modi is widely expected to be back for a third term.

The dance of elections will also play out in India’s neighbourhood where Pakistan will vote while Sheikh Hasina takes Bangladesh to the polls amid an opposition boycott. But nowhere is the farce bigger than in Russia where the Vladimir Putin will vie for a fifth presidential term while the war with Ukraine continues in the background.

Conflict triggering geopolitical tensions including Israel’s offensive against Palestine — polls show only 15% Israelis want Prime Minister Netanyahu to stay in office — is a certainty that will persist this year as well.

Not surprisingly, World Economic Forum forewarns that geopolitical instability will lead to “upheavals at a global scale.” This when 2024 was welcomed already from the edge.

Wave of elections and the shadow of AI

2023 was the year AI became unapologetic, through all its definitive positives flirting even with going rogue. And with democracy, elections and billions of voters on the line, its disruptive potential will be a big challenge for cyber experts across the globe as countries align into ballot code.

In an election year, its potential to transform the narrative could be a game changer for political parties with misinformation and fake news finding a more dangerous outlet.

As technology evolves at lightning speed and safeguards struggle to keep pace, attacks are expected to become more sophisticated with the ability to convincingly waylaid in a fraction of time taken earlier.

In this wild west, the ability to sift the original from the fake will be tough for the ordinary voter for whom targeted messaging will make political promises on the campaign trails, yesterday’s news. Importantly, AI encourages a cheaper means to reach a mass audience and could help sway the undecided to get the last-minute swing votes.

Perhaps one of the most worrying trends is AI generated audio that can put unsaid words into a politician’s mouth with its algorithms setting a narrative that an unsuspecting voter can easily fall for.

Rocked by Deepfake

Sifting AI fake from the original will take fact checkers to a new unchartered territory as there are no prerequisites for full disclosure on a campaign trail.

Recently, India was rocked by Deepfake episodes involving celebrity faces, but video generation, experts say is a thing of the past as is trolling as we know it — India on social media is the trolling capital of the world. As cheaper AI tools make their way, even Photoshopping is becoming a thing of the past.

Trump’s refusal to accept Biden’s victory results, the conspiracy theories around it and the surfeit of fake information that drove his supporters to storm Capitol Hill are still in the public imagination. Worried election analysts in the US say this time around they are expecting a ‘tsunami’ of misinformation.

The ongoing two wars have shown that the age of conflict is here to stay and with generative AI, warfare could be at the forefront of change. From identifying targets to increasing capabilities, it is a futuristic battleground, one that Israel’s IDF has already mastered.

Germany’s revelation of a virtual reality weapons testing facility that is impossible in a usual setting is just an example. What you imagine is playing out in real time and not necessarily in physical combat.

US has claimed that China, with its formidable lead in AI is stealing secrets, a claim China denies further destabilising US- Sino relations with a cascading impact on global tensions.

Navigating AI urgently requires legislation that is not only robust but also works as a deterrent. In the absence of it, privacy, and data privacy both become one of the biggest challenges including in educational institutions.

The ubiquitous AI can be immensely productive but its potential for harm is equally catastrophic, with elections 2024, it could be a make-or-break year.