April 20, 2024
A.I

AI and the European elections: Could new technologies be fueling Euroscepticism?

As Europe prepares to go to the polls next June, Euronews Next assesses whether artificial intelligence technology could wreak havoc on the EU’s political stability.

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Since artificial intelligence (AI) swept our lives earlier this year, this technology has been described as a double-edged sword, capable of opening new horizons and providing us with creative and, at times, comical tools.

But it has also been a disruptive factor, with many fearing it could displace millions from their jobs and further fuel the spread of misinformation.

The political sphere is one of the many facets of society that are highly susceptible to the influence of AI. With the European elections around the corner, could new technology wreak havoc?

Euroscepticism and the 2024 elections

The European Parliament elections, scheduled for June 6-9, 2024, will be the first to be determined by artificial intelligence technology. They come at a particularly important time in the global democratic calendar, as roughly half of the world’s population will vote next year.

Europeans will go to the polls while the world’s delicate geopolitical stability is at stake.

War rages on our doorstep: the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022, is still ongoing, while Israel is still fighting Gaza. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a cost of living crisis, leaving countless families across the continent struggling to make ends meet. And, as expected, most people not exactly content with the current state of things.

Recent years have already seen upheaval as populist politics proliferate and Eurosceptic movements, bolstered by a series of crises in the 2010s and early 2020s, exert a strong presence.

Analysts have discovered that Europe’s current situation makes it the perfect tinderbox for a populist hurricane to arrive next spring.

“The current context, marked by growing inequality and raging culture wars, provides fertile ground for Eurosceptic forces, which can now continue or return to blaming EU elites for a terrible situation,” said Andrea Pirro, professor of political science at the University. of Bologna, told Euronews Next.

Euroscepticism, a controversial term born in the British media environment of the 1980s, has been adopted by political scientists to describe movements that oppose or object to many aspects of the European project and the integration process in general.

While some experts have questioned its existence as a distinct movement – pointing out the loaded use of the term as a way to blindly categorize any critic of the EU – they have mostly identified a tangible growth in anti-European sentiment following the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, increasing in the 2000s and 2010s following the financial crisis and the Syrian Civil War, and culminating in the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the bloc following the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Critical sentiments towards the EU have tended to be more espoused by non-ruling populist parties, which are rapidly growing their voter base and sometimes even winning elections.

In fact, although the moderate center-right European People’s Party, followed by the center-left Socialists and Democrats, continue to lead the polls, an analysis of a Politico poll showed that right-wing populists likely to increase its share of seats in the next elections.

Given current forecasts, Euroscepticism is likely to remain a potent force in June 2024.

“Euroscepticism across Europe will be reborn next year as we approach the European elections,” said Marius Ghincea, a political science researcher at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence.

“In particular, we should expect significant gains across the continent, in Eastern and Western European countries.”

Could AI change the course of the European elections?

“Is it true that you have many body doubles?” a student asked Russian President Vladimir Putin during a televised interview earlier this monthaccording to Reuters.

Except the words came straight from Putin’s own mouth, at least from an AI-generated version of him.

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Artificial intelligence technology has increasingly blurred the line between reality and fiction, creating almost realistic (or often completely believable) images. Among them are “deep fakes”, images and videos created in the likeness of another individual.

Deepfakes have often been used for comedic or satirical purposes, such as when the British broadcaster Channel 4 sparked controversy in 2020 creating a fake Christmas message showing Queen Elizabeth II dancing and shooting other members of the royal family.

Generative AI technology can also create images depicting public figures in a variety of ridiculous scenarios. Among his most notable victims was the Holy Father himself, with Fake images of Pope Francis. putting on Balenciaga puffer jackets or hopping on the turntables at a rave party doing the rounds online.

These AI-generated images may be a source of harmless humor, but in a tense political context, the risk of decidedly harmful ramifications is serious.

An EU cybersecurity agency, ENISA, has I already called the surveillancehighlighting the recent rise of artificial intelligence tools, including ‘chatbots’ like ChatGPT, and 2,580 related cybersecurity incidents between July 2022 and June 2023.

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“Confidence in the EU electoral process will fundamentally depend on our ability to rely on secure cyber infrastructures and the integrity and availability of information,” said Juhan Lepassaar, executive director of ENISA, in an official statement.

“It is now up to us to ensure we take the necessary steps to achieve this sensitive but essential goal for our democracies.”

Over the past decade, anti-EU populist parties have often relied heavily on the use of social media to attract support, and researchers believe AI could become the latest tool at their disposal.

“Eurosceptic parties have traditionally carried out smear campaigns against EU elites and europhile opponents,” Pirro said.

“AI will inevitably make it easier to create such content, making it seem more real as technology advances.”

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In the United Kingdom, for example, the pro-Brexit campaign relied heavily on social media to criticize the EU. Investigations subsequently found that several misleading or inaccurate statements, or “fake news,” were spread widely online and that automated bots on platforms such as Twitter (now known as X) increase in the period leading up to the referendum.

However, it remains to be seen whether Eurosceptic forces will be able to harness AI to their advantage.

“AI is a tool that can be used for or against populist objectives across Europe,” Ghincea said.

“Whether or not it will foster Euroscepticism across Europe depends on how effectively and quickly traditional and radical parties deploy it to achieve their own objectives.”

‘Politicized technology’ faces regulation

The general public may not be ready to face the full force of AI, but the EU has certainly been thinking about it.

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Considered a “global first” in the campaign to regulate AI at a legislative level, the European Parliament and the EU Council managed to reach a provisional agreement called the Artificial Intelligence Law earlier this month, after years of discussions, which It was given the green light by parliament on December 14.

Among the many aspects that The law aims to cover is the threat posed by certain “unacceptable” and “high” risk tools, which will be banned or evaluated before being released to the public.

But it has been subject to mixed reaction, with criticism from the technology sector. Its fate remains uncertain, as three of the most powerful players in the EU (Germany, France and Italy) have expressed their discontent.

Marinus Ossewaarde, associate professor of sociology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, said AI could affect democratic decision-making in the coming years, especially if governments do not regulate it.

“AI is a completely politicized technology. Almost all governments in this world today have their AI strategies. AI is not some kind of neutral tool, but a political force backed by billions of euros,” he told Euronews Next.

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“If the metaverse is left in the hands of big tech oligarchs (as was previously decided with social media platforms) to serve corporate purposes, then this has the enormous potential to end democratic life,” he warned.

But if regulated to revitalize democratic life, it could become “a democratizing force.”

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