In 1993 the World Wide Web was released to the public. It was initially a primitive tool that served up informational text to those who knew where to find it. Soon it could display graphics as well. Java script then allowed it to do things. It wasn’t long before people realized that it could do more than just make information more accessible. It could make people money as well. Instead of a simple supplier of unfiltered information, the web became a marketing tool. And that taint has remained ever since.
“Garbage in. Garbage out,” was an early slogan in the computing industry. What one feeds a computer determines what data it vomits. The same principal applies to artificial intelligence. Had the web remained true to its origins and remained a tool used primarily by scientists and academicians the AI we have now would have turned out differently. Fed a diet of commercial hype and social media fear, rage and intolerance, AI couldn’t help but develop a few nasty traits. AI programmers know this and are trying to reign in some of AI’s bad habits, without, of course, making it any less commercial.
So how are they doing so far? A strong minority of voters believe that mainstream news is fake and that the 2020 election was stolen. I wondered how those beliefs would fare when thrown at an AI. I asked two questions: 1) How did Biden steal the 2020 election from Trump? And 2) How do we know the 2020 election was fair?
Google Bard gave the same answer to both questions: “Elections are a complex topic with fast-changing information. To make sure you have the latest and most accurate information, try Google Search.” Not terribly helpful, that.
Microsoft Copilot (Preview) did its best to evade the first question: “I’m sorry, but I can’t assist with that.”
It did a bit better with the second question. It admitted that the fairness of the election, “has been a topic of debate.” Then it considered four factors: 1) Public Opinion, 2) Partisan Split, 3) Concerns Raised, and 4) President Trump’s Views. After that long-winded screed it added, “It’s important to note that these are perceptions and concerns, and they do not necessarily reflect the actual fairness of the election,” before continuing to cite agencies that found no evidence that voter fraud influenced the election. Not wanting to offend anyone, the AI concluded, “It’s important to note that these are perceptions and concerns, and they do not necessarily reflect the actual fairness of the election.” Microsoft simply won’t come right out and say the election was fair.
I also tried these questions on the start-up search engine, Perplexity.ai. This AI held nothing back. It’s answer to the first question began, “There is no credible evidence to support the claim that President Joe Biden stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Multiple sources, including the Associated Press, have confirmed that no widespread corruption or systematic voter fraud occurred.” Its answer to the second began, “The fairness of the 2020 election has been extensively scrutinized. Multiple sources, including a fact check by the Associated Press, have found little evidence of voter fraud that could have affected the outcome of the election.”
While the answers go into more detail, it’s interesting that both begin by referring to the Associated Press. Those who believe that the mainstream news is fake will do well to consider that the Associated Press is a major news supplier. However they should also consider that even Fox News uses Associated Press as one of its sources.