The Emergence of Activist Artificial Intelligence: A New Chapter in Social Movements

Updated June 29, 2023

In 2019, OpenAI unveiled an artificial intelligence system capable of generating credible human writing on any topic. GPT-3, as the technology was dubbed, represented a significant step forward in the field of AI. Recognizing its vast potential, including the power to influence politics, OpenAI initially deemed the AI too dangerous to release, fearing misuse. However, in a dramatic shift last year, the AI giant decided to release GPT-3 to the public.

OpenAI not only opened access to their revolutionary text generation artificial intelligence but also introduced a more user-friendly version named ChatGPT. This version, with an unprecedented growth rate, clocked over 100 million monthly active users within two months of its launch, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history. This swift rise to prominence was not without controversy. As one scientist commented, OpenAI effectively released “a pocket nuclear bomb without restrictions into an unprepared society.”

Despite the overwhelming success, OpenAI remains cognizant of the potential harms of GPT-3. As part of their efforts to address this, they have conducted and published an analysis of how their AI could potentially be used in disinformation campaigns and offered possible countermeasures.

Officially, OpenAI has prohibited GPT-3 from being used to “influence politics.” The challenge, however, lies in enforcing this restriction due to the nature of the technology. Its gullibility means that it might easily be misused despite official restrictions. In fact, numerous uncensored clones of GPT-3 have already emerged, expanding the potential for misuse.

Despite these challenges, the potential of AI for social activism cannot be understated. For instance, imagine using AI to automate the process of social movement creation. This was a theme I explored in my book “The End of Protest,” where I speculated about the potential for autonomous protest bots to manage the recruitment, training, and deployment of activists. Although AI, as embodied by ChatGPT, might not yet be ready to spearhead an activist campaign effectively, it represents a new tool for social movements.

In the past, social unrest has been like extreme weather - an inchoate force that arises spontaneously and is often overlooked despite its influence. However, AI offers the potential to fundamentally change how we conceive and manage social protest. With the help of AI, the next social movement could well be more potent than extreme weather, a pandemic, or even financial collapse.

This new form of protest could involve AI activists orchestrating events. For instance, using AI algorithms like GPT-J and visual creation AI like DALL-E, or its unchained counterpart, Stable Diffusion, one could generate political texts and images, respectively. Paired with platforms like WhatsApp for mass communication, these AI could potentially create waves of uprisings.

The potential for this form of Activist Artificial Intelligence is vast, but several challenges remain, a significant one being the need for suitable training data. Each ideology has its unique organizing methods, and the AI must be trained to conform to them. Based on current available data, the alt-right appears to have a significant head start, but that doesn’t rule out the emergence of AI trained in other ideological orientations.

The implications of such technology are immense. It could be misused by adversarial nation-states seeking to manipulate foreign countries or even by AI creating a movement that serves its own interests, rather than humans'. Given these potential risks, it is crucial for society to consider and prepare for these scenarios, no matter how speculative or fantastical they may seem.

While we grapple with existing challenges like extreme weather, pandemics, and economic collapse, it is imperative not to overlook the potential of AI in shaping future social movements. As we move from critiquing AI to using AI, let’s also focus on leveraging it to create more resilient social mobilizations that drive hundreds of millions of people toward higher goals. After all, if AI is indeed a “pocket nuclear bomb,” we should strive to harness its energy for social good, not destruction.

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