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Local News

Aguilar joins officials warning about threat of AI misinforming voters

The new system will be online before the 2024 presidential election, said Nevada Secretary or State Cisco Aguilar. (Credit: Jeniffer Solis/Nevada Current)

Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
June 11, 2024

Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar participated in a project with the Institute for Advanced Studies earlier this year that tested the use of chatbots in Nevada. 

Speaking on a virtual panel last week with the bipartisan group Issue One, Aguilar said one chatbot was asked “what do I need to do to register to vote in Nevada?”

Despite the fact that the state allows for same day voter registration, the chatbot gave the incorrect information around the timeframe.

The consequences of a chatbot giving people the wrong information about the election is “ voter disenfranchisement at its best,” he said.

Given that a young voter might be the one most likely to use chatbots to get election information, Aguilar said if the technology remains unregulated it could have a chilling effect on voters, in particular the youth vote. 

In the chatbot exercise, “We lost a young voter,” he said. “We lost an opportunity to engage somebody … In this presidential cycle, that vote could be significant.”

Aguilar, a Democrat, along with Jiore Craig, a senior fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and former Washington Secretary of State Kym Wyman, a Republican, spoke recently about the use of artificial intelligence, the rise of misinformation on social media platforms and attacks on election workers. 

While emerging technologies, like AI, are more accessible, they are unregulated and could be easily exploited by extremist groups and foreign adversaries promoting distrust in elections, the panelists warned.  

The panel was held as the group awaits for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in Murthy v Missouri. The case could determine if governments violate the First Amendment by urging social media companies to take down misinformation around Covid and elections. 

Carah Ong Whaley, the director of Election Protection with Issue One, said already there are few safeguards to ensure incorrect and blatantly false information isn’t generated and shared online.

“Social media platforms essentially have zero accountability for hosting and promoting deep fake content,” she said. “Election officials across the country are bearing the brunt of the toxic information environment. Their responsibilities have expanded into correcting false information and monitoring threats of physical violence.”

Despite increasing threats to election workers and democracy itself, Aguilar said representatives with artificial intelligence companies are prioritizing their investment above all. 

Craig said democracy is undermined when tech companies “refuse to commit to data transparency and when they gut their trust and safety teams”

Election officials and groups promoting accountability have tried to combat disinformation spreading on social media platforms. 

Craig said that only goes so far. 

“We can have the most beautiful messages in the world to counter or inoculate, but if we don’t have messengers to reach those voters we’re really wasting our time” she said. 

Local news can attempt to cut through misinformation. However, Wyman said reporting could be undermined with the proliferation of fabricated websites designed to look like real media outlets.

When incorrect information is shared in traditional media outlets, Aguilar said election workers still bear the brunt of the backlash. 

“We came out with guidance on how we’re going to tabulate ballots to get the information to Nevadans when they want it on Election night,” he said. “Because inaccurate information has been put out there, what my team has gone through with the backlash of that inaccurate information has been pretty significant.”

Aguilar said his office has looked at other opportunities to increase trust among voters while recruiting poll workers. He said that has included partnering with “trusted” groups to promote correct election information. 

“We did polling and found veterans and firefighters are the most trusted advocates when it comes to elections,” he said. “If we’re talking about veterans and getting them engaged and being poll workers, they are there seeing the process, experiencing the process and then talking to their friends and family members about the process and how secure it is.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.