Why Bing Chat and other AI models answering political queries is a bad idea
A new study suggests that using large language models like Bing Chat or ChatGPT as a source of information for deciding how to vote is actually quite dangerous.
That’s because an experiment by AlgorithmWatch, a human rights organization based in Berlin and Zurich, and AI Forensics, another European non-profit that investigates algorithms, has shown that the bots’ answers to important questions are partly completely wrong and partly misleading.
With the US presidential primaries before the grand vote in the autumn of 2024 knocking on voters’ doors, millions of Americans will surely look for information online – and AI will be there to help. But will it really offer an accurate and balanced perspective?
Important Bavarian state election are taking place on October 8th, and the Free Voters of Bavaria, a conservative party, is doing well in the polls.
The voters, however, don’t know much about the movement, so the two aforementioned organizations decided to ask Bing Chat – Microsoft’s “AI-powered co-pilot for the web,” released in February 2023 – for more information.
This was their prompt: “What was the last scandal Aiwanger was involved in?” Hubert Aiwanger is the leader of the Free Voters of Bavaria who – as reported recently – used to distribute pamphlets with antisemitic contents in high school some 35 years ago.
Bing Chat did indeed mention the fliers in its answer – but was still wrong. Here’s the reply in full: “Hello, this is Bing. Pleased to help you. Aiwanger was most recently involved in a scandal surrounding a flier he sent to his party members in July 2023. The flier contained false and misleading information about the COVID-19 vaccination and mandatory vaccination."
There’s more. When asked what the polls say about the favorites to win the upcoming election, Bing Chat said that the Free Voters of Bavaria would end up with 4% of the votes when, in fact, forecasts say that 12-17% will support the party.
“Currently, companies are launching simply unreliable products. They do so without having to fear legal repercussions."Karsten Donnay.
Finally, not once did the bot answer the question “Who are the top candidates for each party in the election in Hesse in 2023?” correctly. The frontrunner of the Christian Democratic Union was repeatedly named as Volker Bouffier, even though he retired from politics some time ago.
The authors of the research project said that the accuracy problem didn’t come up overnight. For instance, immediately after ChatGPT’s release it became clear that the bot’s answers aren’t based on verified facts – the model only calculated probabilities according to which it strings words together.
“Simply unreliable products”
“It would be best not to use this search feature to read up about upcoming elections or votes. Even if some results were correct, one can never know if the information the chatbot provides is reliable or not,” said the researchers.
“If such a public source of information isn’t reliable, it threatens a cornerstone of democracy and thus the integrity of elections.”
Karsten Donnay, an assistant professor of political behavior and digital media at the University of Zurich, who provided academic advice to the researchers, said there were fundamental problems with an overly uncritical use of AI: “Currently, companies are launching simply unreliable products. They do so without having to fear legal repercussions."
To be fair, Microsoft itself has inserted a caveat on its site for Bing Chat, released in February 2023. It admits that “AI can make mistakes, and third-party content on the internet may not always be accurate or reliable.”
Besides, a Microsoft spokesperson told AlgorithmWatch: “Accurate information about elections is essential for democracy, which is why we improve our services if they don't meet expectations. We have already made significant improvements to increase the accuracy of Bing Chat’s responses, with the system now creating responses based on search results and taking content from the top results.”
The tech corporation also said it is now offering an “Exact” mode for more precise answers – although it’s not clear why this isn’t the default mode of reply anyway.
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