During the pandemic, West Virginia’s lawmakers were largely separated from their constituents as government buildings were on lockdown and social distancing ruled the day. Also at this time Cornell University found it appropriate and necessary to unknowingly make West Virginia’s lawmakers part of an experiment using artificial intelligence in an effort to impersonate human constituents and advocate on six issues: guns, reproductive rights, education, health care, policing, and taxes.
The Cornell University experiment was led by Dr. Sarah Kreps. Kreps is a Harvard and Oxford educated professor of government at Cornell, an adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School, an Air Force veteran, a miltary intelligence expert and an adjunct professor at West Point’s Modern War Institute. Prior to her time at Cornell, she worked for various defense and intelligence agencies including the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
Kreps sent a notice to members of the West Virginia legislature informing them of the experiment and offering them an opportunity to further take part in the study. In the correspondence, she noted the “deception” and “potentially disruptive effects” the experiment contained. Dr. Kreps said that her organization sent emails that they “judged posed little risk”
Delegate Daniel Linville, Chairman of the House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure responded to Kreps with a series of questions and escalated the issue to Secretary of State Mac Warner. Linville’s inquiries include fact-finding questions of the targets of the experiment, whether lobbying laws were followed, cost reimbursement to the citizens of West Virginia, and the partisan application of the deceptive tactics. He also challenged Kreps’ analysis that there was no harm done by taking away time and resources from legislators during a legislative session conducted during the pandemic.
“It may have succeeded here or in other states”, said Linville. “While the national discussions have largely focused on foreign interference in elections and public policy, this serves as the first example I’m aware of which does so domestically.”
“I have difficulty understanding how any researcher could deem attempts to influence the law, using intentional and widespread deception, as being ethical. Actions in state legislatures have broad reaching effects, are routinely argued in state and federal courts, and change the lives of every American.”
“We’re not finished with this. We’re just getting started,” said Linville.
We reached out to the West Virginia Secretary of State and Donald Kersey, General Counsel / Deputy Secretary of State told us “Based on the limited information I have reviewed regarding the Cornell University researchers’ activities in West Virginia, it does not appear that the issue-based activities are regulated by state campaign finance laws.
The term “Deep State” is often ridiculed as fiction related to conspiracy theorists. The very definition of “Deep State” is – a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.”
Not only is Dr. Kreps an influential figure in government agencies and the military, but she readily admits that her efforts at Cornell were meant to deceive and manipulate policy and government on domestic issues in West Virginia ranging from gun control to reproductive rights.
West Virginia was not the only state targeted. Kreps and colleagues emailed AI-generated advocacy letters to more than 7,000 state legislators. And this was not Kreps first or last experiment. While presenting on “The Perils of Generative AI in Democratic Representation” to the Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) during a public meeting on May 19, 2023 – Kreps said, “Even five years ago, when the technology was far less capable and user-friendly, her research found that people can’t discern between news stories written by AI and by mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times.”
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology was signed into law by President Biden just seven days after he was sworn into office.
“The threat might not be that people can’t tell the difference – we know that – but that if as this content proliferates, they might just not believe anything,” said Kreps, participating virtually in the meeting held in San Diego. “If people stop believing anything, then it’s eroding a core tenet of a democratic system, which is trust.”
The erosion of trust in democracy exists at all levels. Whether you believe that there was election interference in 2016 and 2020 or not, the fact is there has been more than one public campaign to disrupt the democratic process that was funded and orchestrated by Cornell University. Those campaigns were not just focused at state legislators.
In this video, Dr. Kreps describes testing members of Congress to see if they have “racist” leanings by testing their responses to false constituent inquiries.
Many questions remain as to the legal and ethical challenges of artificial intelligence. These “experiments” represent an entirely different argument that goes beyond the use of technology. The experiments were not used on focus groups in a controlled environment. They were conducted on unknowing elected members of state and federal government.
At the simplest level Cornell University, led by a military intelligence expert conducted a mission to diminish the voices of real American and West Virginian voters by flooding the system with fake inquiries. Whether this was an “experiment” or an actual operation will now need to be determined by courts and lawmakers.