... in elections

Machines vs Elections

08 Aug 2023 | 500 words | artificial intelligence democracy elections

So over the wekend we learned that Sam Altman is apparently nervous about the impact of AI on democratic elections:

i am nervous about the impact AI is going to have on future elections (at least until everyone gets used to it). personalized 1:1 persuasion, combined with high-quality generated media, is going to be a powerful force. (@sama on x, 04-08-2023)1

And that even though he is the CEO of the company that has arguably done more than anyone else to get generative ML tools into the hands of the public, he cannot come up with anything better than “raising awareness”:

although not a complete solution, raising awareness of it is better than nothing. we are curious to hear ideas, and will have some events soon to discuss more. (@sama on x, 04-08-2023)

It seems that Altmans “concern” is something that has already had its impact on OpenAIs public policy narrative. A few hours after Altman’s tweet, Open AI’s new European head op policy and partnerships had translated this into a call to action:

Who are the best thinkers/builders at the intersection of generative AI and elections in Europe? Ideas welcome! (@sGianella on x, 04-08-2023)

Now, there are plenty of reasons to suspect that Altman’s “nervousness” is nothing more than self-serving criti-hype (see here for such an interpretation), but in this case it is worth dwelling a bit on the particular connection being made between AI and elections (especially since both the US and Europe have upcoming elections).

There are indeed reasons to be concerned about the impact of generative ML models on elections and other democratic processes2, but it is beyond absurd that such concerns are being articulated by Open AI and its representatives:

The way in which Open AI introduces its models into the public sphere stands in stark contrast to the very norms of openness, transparency, and equality on which democratic elections are based. Instead of these values, Open AI deliberately hides how its models are trained, making it impossible for researchers, policymakers, and the general public to understand “the impact AI is going to have on future elections.”

If Sam Altman and his surrogates are truly interested in limiting any undue interference of the technology they are peddling to the public with upcoming elections, then they should apply the same level of transparency to their publicly available models. Until that happens, we should keep ML systems as far away from the electoral process as possible.

  1. Given the unstable nature of the platform formerly known as twitter i have made a screenshot of the posts quoted in this conversation available here↩︎

  2. Although the impact is probably overstated, the underlying problem is not so much “AI” but rather disinformation that may or may not be aided by “AI” systems. As Sayash Kapoor & Arvind Narayanan have convincingly argued the real bottleneck for disinformation campaigns is not its generation but rather its distribution and as a result it is at the distribution level where this problem should be adressed. ↩︎

Election Day (2017)

15 Mar 2017 | 435 words | elections politics europe netherlands

As i am writing this i am on a flight from Strasbourg back to Amsterdam. At the same time people back in the Netherlands are voting in one of the most contested elections of recent memory. There is a real (although increasingly unlikely) chance that the xenophobic, populist and anti European PVV of Geert Wilders will become the biggest party and that the rest of the political spectrum will splinter into 15 or more parties. The dutch elections are seen as a first test for the future of a united and democratic Europe, to be followed by the French presidential elections in a month where the Front National is currently leading the polls.

Much has been written about how this is due to fact that much of the populations feel ignored, left behind and threatened by immigrants and other outsiders. Looking out of the window of the plane this is somewhat hard to reconcile with the landscape passing 8000 meters below. The regions between Amsterdam and Strasbourg (Alsace, Luxembourg, Limburg, Brabant, South Holland) are some of the richest and happiest on earth. You can see that from above, the fields are lush and green, the tractors draw their GPS guided straight lines across the landscape, the roads and other infrastructure are well maintained, the dutch waterworks proudly face the expanses of the North Sea and the villages and small towns are orderly clusters of individuals houses, surrounded by patches of lawn and other greenery.

To anyone who has ever looked out of a plane window when flying approaching airports in South America, Africa, the Middle East or Southeast Asia this will look like paradise. There can be no doubt that Europe is one of the most fortunate places on earth and there can be no doubt that we have the resources not only to support those who have the privilege to be born here but also those who are looking to come here for a better future.

The political crisis that we are facing and that is driving much of the electorate into the arms of xenophobes and populists like Wilders and Le Pen is clearly not the result of resource scarcity. Instead it is a crisis of resource allocation. The fat, rich landscapes passing below us can easily support many more than just the lucky few that are already here. As Europeans this requires us to understand that we need better, fairer ways of sharing our collective wealth…

Meanwhile in the seat next to me: VVD MEP Hans van Balen reading the biography of his party leader and most likely election winner Mark Rutte.

A new era

09 Nov 2016 | 737 words | elections politics trump united states future

When I went to sleep yesterday night I was expecting my daughters Yuki and Mika to wake up in a world where three of the most powerful persons are women. Instead, we woke up to a world in which a misogynistic, ignorant, racist, fear-monger was elected to be the next president of the United States of America. That makes it pretty likely that they will grow up in a world that is considerably worse than the one I grew up in.

Breakfast with vodka shot

2nd breakfast of the morning: double espresso + vodka shot

But this is not about my daughter’s role models (we will find others), this is about the end of an era. Most directly Trump’s victory will affect the US. While this can play out in many ways, it is hard to imagine a way in which this will not cause a lot of hurt to the most vulnerable people in society: (undocumented) immigrants, minorities and generally all those who can’t or don’t want to come up for their own interests at the expense of others.

Trump, and more importantly the extremist right wing networks and strategists who have enabled success, will have the full political apparatus (both houses of congress, the presidency and the supreme court) aligned to turn back progress that has been made over the last decades. America will become a worse place to live for lots of people, and that fills me with dread.

Even worse, Trump will inherit the targeted assassination machine built and employed mercilessly by President Obama1. From the perspective of those killed and maimed by drone strikes and other assassination methods it does not really matter if the strike was authorised by Obama or Trump, but it does not take a lot of imagination to fear that President Trump will be even more indiscriminate in unleashing the hellfires.

An uncertain future for Europe

Closer to home, Trump has questioned the traditional security alignments between the US and Europe. At the same time he has shown remarkable affinity with the Russian President Putin. If this leads to a strategic new alignment between Russia and the US this may very well have far-reaching consequences for peace and stability in Europe. Much of the uncomfortable but peaceful co-existence between the European neighbours of Russia and Russia itself is based on military hegemony of the US that is backing us up. We may soon find ourselves in a drastically different environment characterised by a degree of instability and danger that is unknown to most of the European people of my generation (with the exception of those who witnessed the self-destruction of Yugoslavia from close by).

It also looks pretty certain that the era of free trade fundamentalism will come to an end. TTIP & TTP are effectively dead as of this morning 08:29 CET and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it makes me wonder whether the system that put free trade ahead of pretty much all other considerations will be replaced by something better. I have been somewhat hypocritical in enjoying the perks of being in a privileged position of the ever more interconnected world produced by this system, and I can’t really imagine being thrown back in a world that is much more focussed on nation states, but this seems to be where we are heading.

Standing up against populism at home

Closest to home, the most worrying thing about this morning were the triumphant tweets of Geert Wilders (the racist and nationalistic populist who fancies himself the equivalent of Trump over here) in which he predicts to “win back the Netherlands“. If we have learned one lesson this year it is that we have to treat a Wilders’ victory during next year’s election as a very real possibility.

While most of the developments I have described are out of my realm of influence, this morning made something crystal clear for me: If we do not start doing everything we can to prevent a Wilders’ victory from happening, we have only ourselves to blame and then we will be in even deeper shit when we wake up on 16 March 2017.

  1. If Trump really wants to install a special prosecutor to go after a member of the Obama administration, this prosecutor should not go after Clinton (who has misplaced a couple of thousands of emails), but after President Obama (who has assassinated hundreds of people). ↩︎

Pirates for Obama

Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas brought together a bunch of american musicians and actors to record a video clip (song) based on the ‘yes we can’ thank-you speech held by Obama on January 8th in Nashua, New Hampshire. The whole clip (‘yes we can song‘) is extremely well done (you might want to call it ‘slick’) and certainly makes me want him to win as many delegates as possible tonight. Especially since, towards the end, there is some proud display of a pirate flag tattoo by one of the female vocalists (excuse my ignorance, but i have absolutely no clue who most of these people are, but then i have mostly listening to Bach in the last couple of days):

Bonus points for the reader who tells me the name of the depicted person.

Dennis for President (of the US of A)

03 Dec 2007 | 172 words | united states politics elections lebanon

Most people probably have never heard about Dennis Kucinich who seems to be running for the Democratic party’s ticket to run for President of the United States of America. However it seems that he is the favorite candidate of my much respected left-wing friends in the US (or at least some of them).

Not sure if he really makes a chance but he sure is special. If you believe his website he is some modern day jesus, only better:

In Lebanon, Dennis and Elizabeth also spent time walking through destroyed towns and villages, over land mines, cluster bombs and missiles, listening to the heartbreaking accounts of death and destruction while at the same time being told time and again about the desire for peace.

If you ask me, walking over land mines, cluster bombs and missiles is at least as impressive as walking over water and it is probably better to vote for this dude than for people who’s idea of making the world a better place comes down to invading Pakistan.

When i am president (Obama vs. Osama) ...

Just read a fairly impressive speech on terrorism by US presidential candidate (technically he is a candidate for nomination as a candidate) Barack Obama. The speech it is quite a contrast to what you hear from the current US administration and for large parts actually makes sense even though it contains a fair share of patriotic pathos. For all i know this speech is the first time i have come across a US presidential candidate (who actually has a realistic chance of winning) who seems to realize that there are people outside of the US who hate the US not because they hate freedom but because of the way the US are bullying around the rest of the world:

When you travel to the world’s trouble spots as a United States Senator, much of what you see is from a helicopter […] And it makes you stop and wonder: when those faces look up at an American helicopter, do they feel hope, or do they feel hate?

I guess realizing that the way the US are behaving themselves in the rest of the world is one of the root causes of what is labeled ‘global terrorism’ is one of the core qualifications you would wish any future president of the US to have. Lets hope that he still remembers this should he ever come to sit in one of these new presidential helicopters. Now unfortunately Mr Obama gets a little bit over-excited about his proverbial helicopter ride in the rest of his speech:

[…] That child looking up at the helicopter must see America and feel hope. […] I will speak directly to that child who looks up at that helicopter, and my message will be clear: “You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.” […] The America I know is the last, best hope for that child looking up at a helicopter. It’s the country that put a man on the moon; that defeated fascism and helped rebuild Europe. […] And we can be what that child looking up at a helicopter needs us to be: the relentless opponent of terror and tyranny, and the light of hope to the world.

Not sure if this is a particularly realistic scenario [especially since mr. Obama also hints at invading pakistan in this speech]. Also, given the demographics of your typical ‘terrorist’ i think he should be more concerned about (young) adults than children, but then politicians seem to be generally unable to formulate unrealistic scenarios without referring to children. Guess this is because they are ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’ or both….

Update [22.08.07]: Shudda adds: ‘Nobody invades Pakistan without India’. Interesting times ahead indeed…


26 Oct 2006 | 82 words | brazil elections democracy music

Love this picture which i found when i was going through reports from the submidalogia#2 conference this morning:

Picture by Cris Cabello

From what i can make up from his tags the picture was taken in Olinda in Brazil and shows a mobile sound system used to campaign in the presidential elections (see the ‘Lula e Eduardo’ sticker on the car door).Ii particularly like the mixing panel build into the ceiling of the drivers cabin and the serious expression of the driver.

Observing elections

17 Sep 2006 | 124 words | berlin germany elections democracy

If I was an election observer i would definitely sign up for the early shift. the one were the city is still half asleep and disgruntled volunteers head to the polling stations they have been assigned to to open them hours before the first 10% the electorate show up to exercise their democratic rights.

If there is a mood that expresses the status of those tired, self-defeating and worn-out parliamentary democracies societies it is probably the mood which prevailed in the streets of Berlin this morning at half past 7.

No clue where this particular party gets the inspiration for its economic program from but i would be rather surprised if attracting heavy industry to Berlin will really give the youth a glorious future.

Posters with multiple politicians on them

03 Sep 2005 | 282 words | elections democracy germany east germany lebanon

There are federal elections on the 18th in Germany. One of the parties contesting (and having a good chance of actually entering parliament) is the newly founded ‘Die Linke.PDS‘. This party is a merger of the PDS (which is the sucessor party to the former east German ruling party SED and the WASG which is a left wing split-off from the SPD. being a merger they have to leaders (Oskar Lafontaine & Gregor Gisi) and arguably the worst election poster so far:

That’s Lafontaine on the left and Gisi on the right. Its hard for me to imagine what went through the minds of the people who have come up with this arrangement. To me it looks like the guy on the left has died and the guy on the right is praising now dead leader for his wisdom and life time achievements. Now Oskar Lafontaine has not really died yet (although he has narrowly escaped an attempt on his life a couple of years ago) and Gisi has no real reason to kowtow to lafontaine like this (his PDS commands the bigger part of the potential electorate of the merged ‘Die Linke.PDS’) but maybe they have been inspired by the recent elections in Lebanon where having a dead godfather on your side (and lots of posters with him in the background hanging around town) has proven to be a decisive asset for the anti-syrian opposition. Speaking of Lebanon, they make much nicer posters with multiple politicians on them over there.

Update (10.09.05): Seems they have figured it out themselves and reverted to posters with single politicians on them: individual portraits of Oskar Lafontaine in West Germany and Gregor Gisy east Germany.

Election Day (fuck the French!)

30 May 2005 | 457 words | beirut elections lebanon fashion politics democracy

Before going to Beirut to watch the elections we go to the city of Saida. we start at the unimpressive ruin of the chateau d’eau that lies in the small fishing port opposite of the medina. the leaflet provided to vistors by the ministry of tourism is identical in text with the section about this place in the lonely planet. would be interesting to know who copied from whom. the thought that future generations main source of historical information are the little boxed texts in the various editions of the lonely planet is already disturbing but if it should turn out that the official historical knowledge draws form the the same source this would be even more disturbing.

Late MP Mustapha Saad (not the mayor of Saida! – thanks eve!)

In Saida i find the first internet cafe, actually someone finds it for me as it is a little walk from the city center in a little side street. is more or less and empty room with a computers and one hour goes for £1000. as expected the connection is unbearably slow, a single website often takes ful 2 minutes to load. and this is while only 3 of the 8 terminals are occupied. It seems that it is going to be difficult to stay connected while being here.

Beirut is not much more lively than yesterday. the only places attracting crowds are the polling stations that have crowds of party activists in front of them. Hezbollah activists in yellow vests, the omnipresent Hariri fan-boys in white t-shirts with – surprise surprise – Hariri’s face on their chest. each polling station is guarded by a fire-truck, an ambulance, a platoon of soldiers – and in the christian areas of east Beirut – a armoured personel carrier with a mounted heavy machine gun. The atmosphere is relaxed, the different political factions mix while they hand out little flyers with the lists of candidates that their party supports (each party assembles lists of candidates that comply with the complicated confessional balance that is required by the constitution). The Hariri fans-boys also hand out little gifts (bottles of juice and water with the portrait of the late Hariri on them). Inside the polling station party activists continue to give advice to voters, the voters hoever seem to direct themselves to a representative of their party in order to be instructed. In all the polling rooms (there are 5 in the school that i enterd) there are at least 6 observers by the different parties that sit in the schoolbenches and make notes while the voters disappear behind a curtain to make make their choice. While the results of the vote will not be known till mid week…

Eau de Hariri

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

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