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Published: 2021-01-12

SEK 12 million for two AI projects at Umeå University

NEWS Two research projects at Umeå University are to receive SEK 12 million from the national research programme WASP-HS. The projects are being led by Johanna Björklund and Simon Lindgren, and will investigate how different forms of digital communication and political bots affect individuals, society and democracy.

Text: Camilla Bergvall

Digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence will bring about great opportunities and changes for both society as a whole and for individuals. The Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation and the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation initiated the national research programme WASP-HS in 2019, which will explore opportunities and challenges that arise as a result of the technology shift. Twelve projects have been awarded funding this year, including two at Umeå University.

Projects at Umeå University that will receive funding:

Johanna Björklund, Department of Computing Science, will receive SEK 6 million for a three-year project entitled "AI-based contextual communication: Consequences for individuals and society".

The project highlights the consequences for individuals and society when artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly used to place messages in digital media. This has become an interesting question because of the way the advertising industry trades personal data, a well-known example being the British agency Cambridge Analytica which analysed millions of people's posts on Facebook in order to automate political advertising.

“Contextual communication” can solve many problems but at the same time, it can lead to new and potentially more serious problems as AI systems gain a deeper understanding of people's media consumption.

This project will investigate user attitudes and behaviour in order to understand how AI-based contextual communication affects individuals and, in the long run, society as a whole. Among other things, the researchers will conduct studies and data collections on digital news platforms with active advertising, and investigate how individuals behave and react to that. The work will culminate in a theory on AI-driven contextual communication that makes it possible to use the new technology in an efficient and responsible way.

Simon Lindgren, Department of Sociology and DIGSUM, will receive SEK 6 million for a five-year project entitled "Cyborg politics: A study of artificial agents in online democratic processes".

Artificial agents in the form of social bots are playing an increasingly important role in communication on the internet. Bots are increasingly being used by political campaigns, governments, lobbyists and activists to try to influence political debate and manipulate public opinion. Politicized social bots – political bots – are used, for example, to drown out public discourse with spam during political crises, conflicts and elections to disrupt the work of other actors, or to inflate the number of followers and the degree of positive response to create the illusion that certain ideas are more popular than they really are. Political bots are also used to spread sophisticated computer-driven propaganda and to stage false grassroots movements.

This project examines the impact of political bots on society and politics. What do political bots say? In what relationships in social networks do political bots occur? How does society respond to the existence of political bots? What sustainable ways can be identified for humans to address the challenges to democracy posed by the increased use of political bots?

More about WASP-HS

For more information, please contact:

Johanna Björklund
Associate professor