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Decode

AI Anchor And Karl Marx: CPI(M) Warms Up To Artificial Intelligence

In two episodes that are out now, an AI anchor, a sari-clad woman, reads out the party’s perspective on recent events in West Bengal in English.

By - Dipanjan Sinha | 12 April 2024 5:24 AM GMT

Use of artificial intelligence (AI) in politics is an ethical debate that the entire intellectual spectrum is unsure of. But in an unexpected turn of events, the Bengal branch of the CPI (M)- The Communist Party of India (Marxist)- often accused of being opposed to computers in the 90s, stepped ahead of others a few weeks ago with an AI generated presenter, Samata.

In two episodes that are out now, the avatar, a sari-clad woman, reads out the party’s perspective on recent events in West Bengal in English. The first episode out on March 27 was about the collapse of a building in Kolkata and the second one out on April 4 claims a nexus between the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress. Though synthetic and quite unreal to look at, the avatar does the job of reaching out to people who are not that keen on reading long pieces but want to know the party’s take. The political party has been sharing the AI-generated anchor's videos on their social media platforms and on WhatsApp groups.

Eventually, the role of this presenter will be to both aid election campaigns and become a go to source for people outside of Bengal to get summaries of the left party’s Bengali bulletins in English.

After Samata created a buzz among its followers, the party now plans more AI innovations which will be actively used for the elections.

But this move is hardly in contradiction to the political position of the left party, argues senior CPM leader Shamik Lahiri. “It is a long standing rumour that has stuck on with the Left that we had opposed the introduction of computers. That is not true at all. We had opposed job losses that were going to happen at that time. We view new technology as something positive that can make life easier for the working classes. Not as something that makes them lose work,” he says.

Lahiri explains that the party does not see artificial intelligence as a negative development at all. “It is like fire. We can use it to cook or cause harm. Moreover, while it is true that there are some losses of white collar job in the IT industry at the moment, AI replacing a blue collar worker, like someone driving a car, is still pretty far away. And we can see that we do need human intelligence to drive any AI tool. This will reduce the burden of mundane jobs from the worker,” he says.

The digital team of the party in West Bengal, that came up with the idea has been working with AI tools with a similar approach. “We have been using a lot of tools to make work easier for us. Whether it is transcription tools to generate subtitles or visual tools like Freepik or Canva to make interesting collages or short videos,” says Abin Mitra from the CPI(M)’s Bengal digital team.

The first time, their use of artificial intelligence was noticed was when they used an image-generating tool to create an image of Karl Marx in Babylon in 2023.



“We wanted to put across the idea of the importance of Marx in a world that is steeped in violence and destruction on the basis of identities,” says Mitra. The image was a hit and it encouraged them to try something more. After this, they have used tools like Dubverse to produce subtitles for the speeches or interviews of some of their leaders. These, however, did not create much noise as they were not seen as a visible use of AI.

With Samata, it has been different and was the surprise was partly intended. The team sees the visual experiments with AI as something also with a shock element that helps them reach people. “Parties like the BJP have much bigger budgets than us, which helps them hire agencies that use many tricks to reach people. We are left with our dedication and creativity. Right through history, the left has relied on creativity for its messaging be it music, theatre or writing. Tech innovations and AI helps us creatively bridge the gap of manpower and financial resources,” says Lahiri.

As a lot of these tools are still free to use so the team is being able to run its ideas on bare minimum budget. The effects of that can be seen in Samata videos which have sharp jerks, indicating points where free access ended. These smaller clips were then stitched together.

“We are aware that these may not always remain free and we will have to rethink our strategy. But for a party of the people, we will make the most of open access tools and campaign for more open access technology,” says Mitra.

While sceptical about the impact of Samata at an immediate level, senior journalist Jayanta Ghoshal feels that this is an important step for the party, which has been known to be reluctant to move with the times.

“This kind of change and focus on social media has been led by the BJP right from the 2014 elections. The others were a little slow to pick up. In fact, for a long time, the CPM had a hard time matching pace at which parties like the BJP were spreading targeted information through social media. So it is interesting to see the left take charge on AI,” he says.

Ghoshal, however, feels that the tool of the presenter still looks pretty rough and can only have a limited impact. “But there is no reason why it should not aid to their campaign given their lack of resources and to an extent physical reach now,” he says.

Though use of AI tools by parties is not necessarily problematic, globally there are serious concerns about how they are going to be used. While a presenter that aids and maximises reach is quite innocuous, there is already threat of sinister operations like deepfakes, says digital activist Srinivas Kodali.

“We are seeing the impact of that already and there are many deepfakes around. It is upon the election commission to regulate that but they have mostly been clueless on how to approach this. We are yet to see any specific rules or guidelines on this either,” says Kodali.

Even if there are rules from the government, there are questions on if that will be counterproductive and might be used to target the opposition or independent voices, argues Ghoshal.

He points out that deepfakes too can be of different kinds. While a recent fake video of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee showed her making an outrageous comment about the poet Nazrul Islam, the DMK used an avatar of their dead leader, M Karunanidhi to inspire voters.

“So what to restrict and what to allow will be a tricky question,” says Ghoshal.

Weeks ago, following the arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders shared two AI generated voice clones of their leader on X. In the 34 seconds audio message, accompanied by a photo of Kejriwal, he can be heard saying, "Whether inside or outside, every moment of my life is dedicated to serving the country. Every drop of my blood is dedicated to the country."

Also Read:Video Of Jai Shri Ram Slogans During CM Banerjee's Visit Is Morphed

The CPM digital team is now evaluating the impact of Samata and on the basis of that plan to launch multiple such presenters. “We have many ideas. We can create a farmer, a factory worker or a rickshaw driver who can talk about issues affecting each of them,” says Mitra.