Nebraska experts discuss threats and benefits of artificial intelligence on democracy

Feb. 26, 2024, 6 a.m. ·

Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse speaks on artificial intelligence and election security at the AI and Democracy Community Summit. (Photo by Brian Beach/Nebraska Public Media News)

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Local experts in media, election security and counterterrorism spoke on ChatGPT, deepfake videos, voice cloning and more at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Saturday for Civic Nebraska’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Democracy Community Summit.

The panel included UNL public relations professor Bryan Wang, UNL journalism professor Matt Waite, Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse and UNO counterterrorism center director, Gina Ligon.

Ligon provided examples of terrorist groups teaching members to use ChatGPT and other generative AI to spread misinformation.

Ligon said she is worried about how bad actors could use the tech to target election officials in the U.S.

“I am most concerned about terrorists’ use of this to be able to find and threaten and intimidate and coerce our election officials,” she said.

Waite said it is impossible for public policy to keep up with advances in artificial intelligence.

“Don't legislate technology,” he said. “You will never win. You are in an arms race that you cannot possibly win.”

Waite suggested legislators focus on preventing the action of election interference instead of the technology used to do it.

“If we don't want people interfering with elections, let's think about all the ways that you could interfere with an election, and make that illegal,” he said. “Not, ‘How did you get there? What tools did you use to do this?’ It's the action itself.”

Panelists also discussed some of the benefits of AI for democracy.

Waite said chat bots could help summarize proceedings at local government meetings, particularly in rural parts of the state where those meetings aren’t currently covered.

“AI could result in more communities being covered around the state,” he said. “If you're looking at it from a civic standpoint, that is more information about local government and local democracy.”

Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse said his office could use AI to do research on election law and identify bad actors engaged in election interference, saving taxpayer dollars.

State Sen. Tom Brewer says he intends to plan an interim study for state legislators about the threats of AI on Democracy over the summer. (Photo by Brian Beach, Nebraska Public Media News)

After the panel and discussion, State Sen. Tom Brewer said his conversations with the panelists encouraged him to plan an event for members of the state legislature’s Government and Judiciary Committees to learn more about AI.

Brewer said he would like to schedule the event over the summer after the primary election season, but with enough time to prepare for potential threats during the general election.

“You can’t, in three minutes, in front of a committee in the Capitol, educate people on AI,” he said. “So, what we can do is give them the time they need to tell the story.”

Brewer, who chairs the state legislature’s Government Committee, said he anticipates Sen. Justin Wayne, chair of the Judiciary Committee, will be on board with the idea.