US Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned a panel of experts about how artificial intelligence (AI) has reportedly been used to spread disinformation and sow mistrust in the federal government during times of disaster, specifically in the wake of the Maui wildfires.
During her question line, Senator Hirono emphasized her concern about the role AI could play in disseminating disinformation and misinformation following future disasters.
“It is a powerful tool that can be used for good, but it can also be used to spread a lot of disinformation and misinformation, and that happened during the disaster on Maui,” said Sen. Hirono during the hearing.
“Maui residents were subject to disinformation—some of it coming from foreign governments, i.e., Russia—looking to sow confusion and distrust, including, ‘Don’t sign up for FEMA because they cannot be trusted.’ And I worry that with AI, such information will only become more rampant with future disasters,” Sen. Hirono said during testimony.
Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of the Microsoft Corporation, echoed Senator Hirono’s concerns. In his testimony, Smith denounced the spread of foreign disinformation, which he said aimed to discourage people impacted by the Maui fires from accessing federal disaster relief and promote conspiracies that the fire was caused by the US government using a meteorological weapon.
“When you think about what happens typically, in the wake of an earthquake or a hurricane or a tsunami or a flood, the world comes together. People are generous, they help provide relief. And then let’s look at what happened after the fire in Maui—it was the opposite of that. We had some people, not necessarily directed by the Kremlin, but people who regularly spread Russian propaganda, trying to discourage the people of Lahaina from going to the agencies that could help them. That’s inexcusable,” said Smith.
He continued: “And we saw what we believe is Chinese directed activity trying to persuade the world in multiple languages that the fire was caused by the United States government itself, using a meteorological weapon. Those are the things that we should all bring the international community together in agreeing they are off limits,” said Smith.
Senator Hirono also inquired about how this use of AI can be identified and combatted in order to prevent foreign entities, from circulating disinformation and misinformation to other vulnerable communities in the future.