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Artificial Intelligence and Disinformation: Examining challenges and solutions

MD Staff

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An array of experts has contributed deep insight into how artificial intelligence is impacting on the way information is being produced, disseminated and consumed, thus reshaping the communications landscape.

They joined a panel on 5 March, in the framework of Mobile Learning Week at UNESCO HQ in Paris, for a dedicated workshop on the subject.

Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, opened the discussion by describing the problem of disinformation by drawing on definitions of the Council of Europe and the European Union.

This perspective sees disinformation as content that is deliberately and intentionally fabricated, not true nor verifiable, and which is produced with the intention of making a profit, and/or pushing a certain ideological or political agenda.

Through social media algorithms, micro-targeting and persuasion, the dissemination of ‘deep fakes’, AI-generated content and automated trolling, artificial intelligence evidently plays a crucial role in the rapid spread of disinformation.

However, said Berger, AI can also be part of the solution, as was illustrated by the multistakeholder panel that explored current problems and possible ways of facing them. Storyzy is a tech start-up created precisely to address the emerging challenges, by using AI to and classify online sources according to the probability of them spreading disinformation, as explained by Pierre-Albert Ruquier, its co-founder and Marketing Director.

Yet tackling the spread of disinformation by virtue of artificial intelligence poses important issues in the view of the panelists. Wafa Ben-Hassine, a Policy Counsel at the Access Now NGO, noted that while hate speech constituting incitement to violence should be banned according to international standards, disinformation is not always illegal. Yet, AI-based responses to this content often led to situations in which speech protected by international law ends up being taken down by a machine, she warned.

Divina Frau-Meigs, UNESCO Chair for “Savoir-Devenir in sustainable digital development: mastering information cultures”, highlighted how the spread of disinformation pose risks to democracy, particularly in relation to the integrity of elections.

Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Philosophy professor at the University of Montreal and Canada Research Chair in Public Ethics, echoed this concern, calling attention to how, by giving away their data, individuals are feeding algorithms that serve business interests and targeted political advertising.   

Elodie Vialle, Head of the Journalism and Technology Desk at Reporters Without Borders, explained how “Journalists, and mostly female journalists, are being increasingly harassed online, through disinformation campaigns amplified by bots”. While recognizing that AI can represent opportunities for journalists (e.g. by facilitating fact-checking), false information spreads six times faster than true information. In this situation, journalism needs to be reinforced and supported, she stressed.,

For his part, Cordel Green, Executive Director at the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, identified the current disruption in the media ecosystem as the source of many challenges, including for regulatory bodies. A very small group of tech companies control social networks and have become content creators and aggregators. Meanwhile, audiences are shifting online, traditional media are becoming unprofitable and see their capacities are diminished. “We are losing fact-checking gatekeepers”, he cautioned.

The audience raised points of their own: How to factor in content, in order for AI to be able to discern metaphors, irony, and jokes? How can journalists survive in the new digital age?  How can we tackle the effects of AI on human rights, and in terms of amplifying existing inequalities and biases?

Recognising that the spread of disinformation is a multifaceted problem, the panel offered several pragmatic solutions.

Ms Ben-Hassine insisted on holistically tackling the challenges posed by the social media platforms’ business model and the way in which they carry out data collection. She advocated the need for appropriate legal frameworks regulating competition and data protection, as well as transparency in electoral advertising.

Both Professor Dilhac and Mr Ruquier explained that the automated analysis of what constituted disinformation would need to be worked out in tandem with human moderators. AI would be best when it is used to find trolls and fraudulent accounts, then flagging them for human moderators to make the final decision, they said. Mr Green was of a similar view when stating that journalists should look at AI not as the enemy, but as a tool.

Panelists supported multi-stakeholder responses like the Journalism Trust Initiative referred to by Ms Vialle, which brings together media managers, editors, publishers and regulators. The best solution to protect journalists and freedom of expression against the threats of false information is self-regulation, she noted. Similarly, social media platforms should face up to their responsibilities while avoiding the privatization of censorship, she argued.

Speakers all agreed on the importance of further research, as well as of empowering users through Media and Information Literacy, with Ms Frau-Meigs highlighting relevant ongoing efforts, such as those promoted by the Global Alliance for Partnerships on MIL,  the Council of Europe and the High Level Expert Group set up by the European Commission to counter online disinformation, among others.

UNESCO

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Smart Border Management: Transformation from Analog to Digital Borders

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A border is something where the territorial boundary of a sovereign country ends and what begins is a bigger responsibility of protecting its boundary from any external threat, which can be defined in a broad term as border security. Different countries have different types of borders, including land borders, coastal borders and aerial borders (or airspace). Securing these different types of borders at all times makes border security a challenging task.

This analyst insight will highlight the pain points and opportunities in the smart border management market and how the traditional analog borders can be transformed into digital borders with the help of technology.

The dynamics of border security change with every country, as every country has different types of terrains, a different type of threat perception and different types of borders.

The terrain can be anything from plains, marsh, mountains, deserts, creeks, riverine, dense forests, deltas, etc. The more types of terrains a country has on its borders, the bigger the problem would be to secure its borders.

Threat perception can be anything from arms and drugs smuggling to illegal immigrants, to cross-border terrorism, to illegal occupation of its boundaries by neighbors.

Types of borders can be anything from fenced to unfenced borders, to friendly borders or hostile borders.

Every border is different and needs different, tailor-made solutions to protect them.

We are living in an era where technology is driving everything and is changing so fast that it has nullified all the traditional wisdom of securing borders. Today, hybrid warfare is possible, wherein cyberattacks, satellite attacks, and drone attacks are the reality and terrorist organizations are using them globally. We have seen an attack on the Saudi Aramco facility, wherein using drone-based loitering ammunition hampered the overall global supply chain. If a nation does not adapt to these technological changes, sooner or later, enemies will find a way to enter its borders, and the effects can be catastrophic.

So a nation is required to have 360-degree protection to form a smart, comprehensive border management system that is digital and can cope with these ever-changing global security scenarios.

First of all:

They need to secure their maritime borders, land borders and airspace using different technologies – perimeter security sensors, radars/sonars, C4ISR systems, digital intelligence, predictive analysis tools, etc. – for security from any kind of outside intrusions/attacks.

They need a strong intelligence collection mechanism at the borders so that information on any upcoming threat can be gathered beforehand and preventive measures can be taken. Different tools and systems should be deployed for SIGINT, COMINT, ELINT, and IMIMT.

They also need to secure themselves from any kind of airborne attacks and should have systems to detect and neutralize not only bigger aerial vehicles and missiles but also for UAVs flying on/near their airspace.

A strong response mechanism is needed to respond to any intrusion events, which can include autonomous UAVs/UGVs/remote weapon stations, to act as a force multiplier and can help ground forces in effectively disseminating the threats without endangering forces that are physically protecting the borders.

It should have a reliable communication system (wired and wireless) in place with a strong encryption mechanism (an overlap of 256-bit encryption and proprietary algorithms) and their exclusive waveforms so that nobody can hack into their mission-critical communication.

Second, they need to secure their ports of entry – airports, seaports, land ports:

At these ports, they should have robust security mechanisms (which should be fast as well as effective) for identity check, immigration, baggage screening, physical security, etc.

For coastal borders and seaports, artificial intelligence and machine learning-based maritime analytics can play a bigger role by taking information from centralized systems like AIS, GIS, etc., and can inform the authorities in advance about any suspicious vessels/ships/ boats before they even enter national waters.

Third, countries need to have a strong national cybersecurity system in place that can help detect threats and vulnerabilities in the system and suggest ways to overcome them.

By adopting the above-mentioned measures and technologies, nations can transform their existing analog borders into digital borders, wherein every suspicious activity gets detected, recorded and presents a holistic picture of the overall security scenario to concerned officials for better decision-making.

Based on the Frost & Sullivan analysis of the global border protection market, the industry is expected to grow to $168 billion by 2025, expanding at a CAGR of 7%. Below are the key technology investment opportunities for security companies:

Autonomous UAS (UAV and UGV) – To automatically respond to any threat

Counter UAS Systems – To detect and neutralize unmanned aerial threats

Remote Weapon Station – To guard the borders, without endangering lives

Software-defined Radios – For robust, futureproof, unhackable communication

Maritime Analytics – To detect and catch the suspicious vessels before entering national waters

Predictive Analytics – A strong, centralized and automated Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) platform that can detect probable cyberattacks and suggest ways to mitigate them

Integrated C4ISR System – To build a system of systems that can take information from various subsystems and show a holistic view of the overall security system

Every problem brings an opportunity to solve it. These problems of securing different types of borders in different countries, for different terrains, and to address different threats present a much bigger opportunity for security companies.

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5G: A new stage in civilization development amid global competition

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The format of the next-generation cellular networks, which is commonly known as 5G, is considered by a vast majority of experts as one of the “key technologies in the decades to come.” It is seen as a major element in ensuring the leading positions of a country at a new stage of the race for the most favorable national development status. What are the political features of this phase of technology rivalry?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) plans to approve the final version of the 5G standard by early next year. However, experts throughout the globe have been developing the “general principles and properties” of the fifth-generation cellular communication technologies for more than five years. The current fourth-generation technology guarantees maximum data transfer rate at about 150 Mbit/s. 5G promises speeds of more than 1 Gbit / s. By the middle of this year, “China, South Korea, Japan, and most EU countries had chosen the frequency spectrum that will be used in fifth-generation networks.” A heated debate has been under way in the United States, which has already held several frequency auctions for 5G .According to Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov, who oversees the development of digital technologies in the Russian Federation, the launch of 5G is “a matter of survival if we do not want to lose technological leadership”.

Experts have no doubt that the fifth generation mobile networks will lead to “drastic changes” in many areas of life. While the present-day cellular communication standards are designed to exchange voice traffic and exchanges between terminal communication devices, the 5G technology is intended to create an environment in which billions of different devices interact with each other in real time. Moreover, the speed and reliability of connection should boost many times. The 5G environment should become a kind of communicative digital “ocean” into which an overwhelming majority of people and economic entities will plunge in the coming decades. This will fundamentally change the industry, global supply chains, defense tecnology, agriculture, transport, medicine, approaches to managing national infrastructure, and in general, the quality of life of billions of people, by becoming part and parcel of everyday life.

One of the most promising and at the same time, conflicting areas, which will, undoubtedly, get good impetus following the introduction of 5G, will be the so-called “Internet of Things”. Microchips will be installed in almost all industrial and consumer products, transmitting all kinds of information and capable of receiving control commands from the outside. Critics fear that the world is moving in the direction of “surveillance capitalism”. The government and business are to address many issues, The Economist points out, including digital ownership, big data, surveillance, competition monitoring, and security. The  standards of receiving, transmitting, processing and storing data promise to become a battlefield of both private companies and government organizations . Those who will control their development and implementation will enjoy  significant, if not crucial, advantages.

“When an invention becomes part of infrastructure, it also becomes part of political relations and undergoes both engineering and political changes”. Therefore, the main political battles are currently unfolding over the choice of frequency bands for building 5G networks, and over the suppliers. Pessimists, including in Russia, fear that, in case of the worst scenario, the priorities of maintaining sovereignty and security may lead to further fragmentation of not only the Internet, but also the cellular communications space. Differences in the frequency bands used for the development of 5G networks may cause conflicts between telecom operators and refusals to conclude agreements on international roaming. According to optimists,  in the absence of universally approved 5G standards, manufacturers of client equipment, from terminals to smart phones, are forced to envisage the possibility of operating in the widest possible frequency range.

At present, the observer attention is focused on two conflicting approaches to the implementation of 5G technologies, the American one, on the one hand, and the Chinese one, on the other. US President Donald Trump regularly makes high-profile statements about the need to ensure America’s top position in promoting 5G technologies. Trump has come out strongly against the purchase of Chinese-made 5G technologies by the United States. Washington is urging other countries to refrain from doing so as well. Otherwise, it said it may wrap up cooperation with its close allies in the field of telecommunications, including the exchange of intelligence data. Given the situation, the US government agencies that deal with technology development have, on the one hand, already managed to distribute the bulk of frequency modulations for the introduction of 5G, compared to other countries. On the other hand, Leonid Kovachich of the Carnegie Moscow Center says, “the United States is working to create networks in the ultra-high frequency range.” Such frequencies – above 6 GHz, provide  “the most tangible capacity growth against the existing ones.” However, due to specific technological  characteristics, they require an extremely high density of transceiver infrastructure. Thus, America has picked the most expensive option, which, according to critics, including specialists from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is “extremely prodigal”. In addition, this approach “will further accentuate the technological and, as a result, social gap between large cities and sparsely populated regions in the United States”, and will also significantly weaken the ability of American cellular manufacturers and mobile operators to successfully compete with China in other countries of the world.

China’s authorities have been trying to follow major global trends, including the choice of frequencies for 5G. Meanwhile, as experts at Oxford Information Labs claim, China is operating in several areas at once, for the purpose of at least significantly downsizing the competitive edge of Western companies in implementing 5G projects. The Chinese companies are stimulated by the fact that they already control “more than a third of all 5G patents in the world” and also a fairly limited number of potential developers and manufacturers of 5G technology. The West suspects official Beijing of striving to create a de facto corporate-technological “vertical”, with non-governmental organizations pursuing a policywhich is determined by the country’s political and military leadership. What speaks of such a policy is the pragmatic readiness of the Chinese authorities to provide substantial government loans and subsidies for an early launch of domestically developed technologies, including abroad, through resorting to political, diplomatic, financial and economic influence amidst the international community.

Amid the growing confrontation between the United States and China, European countries voice different views. The German government, Die Zeit wrote in November, still expresses its readiness to “use the key technology of the coming decades – data transmission through the new 5G standard – using the technology of the Chinese company Huawei.” However, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, such an approach “is naive.” Macron is convinced that the infrastructure of the future, which is represented by 5G, should consolidate the sovereignty of Europe, not weaken it. What is meant is data security, without which, Europeans say, it makes no sense to talk about security policy asn such. In his opinion, “it is necessary to abandon” the Chinese-manufactured technologies “in favor of European analogues”.

Russia is balancing between fears of alarmists over the “cumbersome nature” of regulators and controllers that “jeopardize” the country’s technological development under the pretext of concern “for national security”, on the one hand, and on the other, the belief of optimists who remind them that the 4G and LTE standards of cellular communication were introduced in a similarly protracted and “bureaucratic” way. A number of representatives of the Russian telecommunications industry have expressed concern that “transition to unconventional frequencies or even an isolated Russian 5G system will delay the creation of modern networks for 5-7 years”. Their opponents are confident that domestic operators will need a few more years to launch 5G networks that cover vast areas. “There are no economic scenarios for 5G yet, no one in the world knows how to earn money on such networks, the existing networks all but prove this in practice. It makes no sense to strive to launch 5G networks at any cost. Just as there is no need to clear the frequencies now – nobody will use them ”.

Whatever the case, the undisguised attempts to halt the development of Chinese high-tech companies or even ruin them which have been made by the United States in recent years “have demonstrated to most countries that independence in IT technology is crucial.” A possible scenario envisages prohibition or restriction of services, products or services provided by American companies in other countries; or at least in such a vital sector as public procurement. For many states it becomes critical to create and develop the domestic IT sector, IT services and software. All this may culminate in the “process of disintegration” of the global IT market, the division of countries into blocks and coalitions focused on “their own” manufacturers of software and their own technological standards.

The problem is to ensure sovereignty without having to face technological or informational isolation. “Information isolationism in the era of digital communication is usually a characteristic of rogue states.” While easing the burden of confronting external pressure, this approach deprives the country of the opportunity to form its own international agenda, believes Dmitry Evstafiev from the Higher School of Economics . On his part, Igor Ashmanov, CEO of Ashmanov & Partners, remarks: “Absence of information sovereignty is an absolutely toxic thing. Speaking about digital sovereignty from a technological point of view, it is necessary to underscore the importance of creating domestic technologies and companies. Borrowing something without giving it any thought is not the right thing to do. ” In his turn, Ilya Massukh, Director of the Autonomous Non-Profit Organization “ Center for Import Substitution in ICT”, says that technological development may result in the loss of identity. Consequently, nations that are striving to maintain sovereignty cannot afford to be completely dependent on foreign “suppliers of technological products”.

Russia, like most countries of the world, has yet to strike the so-called “golden middle,” which would enable it to use the advantages of the new technological reality to maximum efficiency in terms of national development. However, it should do so without turning the process of adopting new technologies into the driving force of self-isolation, which may easily reduce to zero a significant chunk of benefits supplied by the next- generation communication technologies. 

From our partner International Affairs

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G2C e-Governance & e-Frauds: A Perspective for Digital Pakistan Policy

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e-Governance, sometimes referred as e-government, online-government or digital government, is the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to assist in the transformation of government structures and operations for cooperative and integrated service delivery for citizens and government agencies. e-Governance involves using ICT tools to improve the delivery of government services to citizens, businesses, and other government agencies. e-Governance encompasses a wide range of activities and actors, these include government-to-government (G2G), government-to-business (G2B), and government-to-citizen (G2C).

The benefits to be expected from e-Governance initiatives can be put into three major categories:

  • Improve transparency, accountability, and democracy, which reduced levels of corruption,
  • Citizen and business satisfaction and confidence with public services, and
  • Improve achievement of economic and social policy outcomes (e.g. education, health, justice, welfare, industry development etc.)

e-Governance not only plays a critical role in building inclusive, resilient societies but also, enables citizens to interact and receive services from the federal government and local governments 24 hours a day, seven days a week – 24/7. In many respects, the government-to-citizen (G2C) segment represents the backbone of e-Governance. The G2C initiatives are designed to facilitate citizen interaction with government, which is recognize to be principal objective for good governance.

Despite the opportunities e-Governance offers, it also introduces new challenges. In recent times, Government of Pakistan (GoP) has demonstrated a real willingness to transform relationships between government services and citizens, particularly by strengthening the use of ICT and by offering services online, – (Digital Pakistan Vision). Civil society is also committed to implementing such initiatives to improve democratic governance using ICT.

On the other hand, despite the possible opportunities for implementation of e-Governance, Digital Pakistan initiatives, there are a number of challenges that could prevent the recognition of anticipated benefits. Some of the challenges, for instance disparities in computer and internet access, whether due to lack of financial resources or necessary skills, pre-existing systems and conditions, digital literacy (e-literacy) and more importantly electronic frauds (e-frauds).

The term ‘fraud’ commonly includes activities such as theft, corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, bribery and extortion. From the perspective of e-fraud, it may be described as “Inducing a course of action by deceit or dishonest conduct, involving acts of omissions or the making of false statements, with the object of obtaining money or other benefit.” e-Fraud is also defined as a deception deliberately practiced to secure unfair or unlawful gain where some part of the communication between the victim and the fraudster is via a network and/or some action of the victim and/or the fraudster is performed on a computer network. As a matter of fact, e-fraud is not only technical and management problem but also a social problem.

In Pakistan, a citizen-centric approach (G2C e-governance) will enable the government to provide improved service qualities, which in turn develop the citizen satisfaction in democracy. However, due to a variety of technical, economic, and political reasons, e-Governance initiatives will take time to evolve into their full potential. Similarly, the exact scale of e-frauds (online or offline) being committed in Pakistan is currently unknown. Nevertheless, there are certain areas of concern regarding the “Digital Pakistan Policy – 2018”, for which the following recommendations are put forwarded for consideration in future reviews.

Digital Pakistan Policy must be practicable, outcome-focused, risk-based, citizen-centric, locally and globally relevant.

Policy makers must first educate themselves better with the respect to Internet of Things (IoTs), internet and cyber security along with electronic frauds (e-frauds), and formulate an effective anti e-fraud strategy within Digital Pakistan Policy.

Government must support the necessary research and development (R&D) to address digital issues (e.g. e-frauds and cyber-space ethics, network and cloud security etc.), and establish a program to educate citizenry about the digital ecosystem (e-literacy).

Government must overcome the obstacles to realistic, timely, actionable information sharing with all government institutions/departments and stakeholders.

Government must get its own house in order, continue its efforts to strengthen good governance with emphasis on merit-based institutional development and rule of law. And, exceptionally eliminate corruption and nepotism from the society.

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