Professor Phillip Howard’s Talk

Former Governor Michael Dukakis wrote in his letter calling for contributions to the AI World Society (AIWS) Summit, “The real world applications of AI will bring revolutionary changes and will have profound effects on the future of humanity. The changes will bring challenges to societal norms and economic models that we have relied on for decades. And we would be wise to prepare for all that will mean…” But, “our national governments have been slow to act. And international bodies such as the United Nations have yet to effectively address the problem.”

The AIWS Summit is filling in this void, serving as a place where the brightest minds on the planet can work together, to find the innovative solutions that will help us build a brighter future. This week, we are pleased to present a talk by Oxford Professor Philip Howard for the AIWS Summit.

Professor Howard is a statutory Professor of Internet Studies and Director of the Oxford Internet Institute. He investigates the impact of digital media on political life around the world, demonstrating how new information technologies are used in both civic engagement and social control in countries around the world. Howard’s research and commentary writing has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many international media outlets. He holds courtesy appointments as a professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Communication and as a fellow at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

Professor Howard’s talk for AIWS Summit is focused on the impact of misinformation on manipulation of public opinion. It is becoming more of a phenomenon around the world that government agencies and political parties are increasingly exploiting social media to spread junk news and disinformation to benefit their own propaganda.

He conjectures that this trend will continue. Furthermore, he thinks that AI will help make misinformation campaigns easier and more effective to automate. In his opinion, the biggest existential threat to democracy is the undermining the role of science in public life. A long-term negative trend is that the evidence itself will have not have a clear role and instead alternative facts may reign in how we set policy making.

Professor Howard calls for public policy oversight. Countries that want to do something about misinformation need to provide guidelines and set expectations for what political campaigns can do when they commission negative campaigns, what is expected for social media companies that make money out of revenue ad, and how political candidates spend their money.

The full video of Professor Howard’s talk can be seen here.