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The MADCOM Future

How Artificial Intelligence Will Enhance Computational Propaganda, Reprogram Human Culture, and Threaten Democracy... And What Can be Done About It


Emerging artificial intelligence (AI) tools will provide propagandists radically enhanced capabilities to manipulate human minds. Human cognition is a complex system, and AI tools are very good at decoding complex systems. Interactions on social media, browsing the Internet, and even grocery shopping provide thousands of data points from which technologists can build psychological profiles on nearly every citizen. When provided rich databases of information about us, machines will know our personalities, wants, needs, annoyances, and fears better than we know them ourselves. Over the next few years, MADCOMs—the integration of AI systems into machine-driven communications tools for use in computational propaganda—will gain enhanced ability to influence people, tailoring persuasive, distracting, or intimidating messaging toward individuals based on their unique personalities and backgrounds, a form of highly personalized propaganda.

Why is this important?

The difficult truth is humans simply cannot compete with MADCOMs, at least not alone. On the digital networks of the next decade, only humans teamed with AI machines can compete with AI machines. Much like the cybersecurity struggle that dominates the early twenty-first century, the Internet will be the battleground for a continual cycle of one-upmanship as technologists improve adversary-MADCOM detection tools, and as propagandists improve MADCOMs to avoid detection. An ideal future, in which MADCOMs are used for the benefit of humanity and not to its detriment, requires the effort of all levels of society, from the international system down to individuals. The community of democracies must recognize the serious threats posed by MADCOMs, computational propaganda, and weaponized narratives. Democracies must move aggressively to address these threats on multiple fronts, by crafting comprehensive strategies to protect their populations from online propaganda and disinformation, while maintaining the core democratic values of equality and liberty. The technology sector must develop tools for protecting the public from emerging manipulative technologies, and should develop shared principles and norms governing their behavior. Academia should research the impact of MADCOMs, and develop tools and systems to mitigate risks. Finally, individuals have an obligation to understand the ramifications of emerging technologies like MADCOMs, and to take responsibility for their information consumption and their data privacy.