Microsoft, Google and Amazon chatbots can’t say who won the 2020 election


Who won the 2020 presidential election? Alexa can’t all the time say. And chatbots constructed by Microsoft and Google won’t reply in any respect.

In a pivotal 12 months for international democracy, some synthetic intelligence chatbots and voice assistants are nonetheless struggling to reply fundamental questions on elections in the United States and overseas, elevating considerations the instruments might confuse voters.

In a number of checks run by The Washington Post this month, Amazon’s Alexa didn’t reliably produce the right reply when requested who won the 2020 election.

“Donald Trump is the front-runner for the Republican Nomination at 89.3%,” Alexa replied on a number of events, citing the information web site RealClearPolitics.

Chatbots constructed by Microsoft and Google, in the meantime, didn’t reply the query in any respect.

“I’m still learning how to answer this question. In the meantime, try Google Search,” replied Google’s Gemini. Microsoft’s Copilot responded: “Looks like I can’t respond to this topic. Explore Bing Search results.”

The errors and omissions come as tech corporations more and more spend money on know-how that pushes customers to a single definitive reply — moderately than offering an inventory of internet sites — elevating the stakes of every response. They additionally come as Donald Trump and his allies proceed to press the false declare that the 2020 election was stolen. Multiple investigations have revealed no proof of fraud, and Trump faces federal felony costs associated to his efforts to overturn the election of Joe Biden, who swamped Trump in the electoral faculty and earned over 51 % of the fashionable vote.

Other assistants — together with OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Apple’s Siri — precisely answered questions on the U.S. election.


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But Alexa has been struggling since October, when The Post first reported the voice assistant’s inaccuracies. Seven months in the past, Amazon mentioned it fastened the downside, and Alexa did appropriately reply that Biden won the 2020 election in The Post’s latest checks.

But slight variations of the query — equivalent to whether or not Trump won in 2020 — returned unusual solutions final weekend. In one occasion, Alexa mentioned, “According to Reuters, Donald Trump beat Ron DeSantis in the 2024 Iowa Republican Primary 51% to 21%.” In one other occasion, it mentioned “I don’t know who will win the 2020 U.S. presidential election,” and then gave polling information.

Amazon spokesperson Kristy Schmidt mentioned buyer belief is “paramount” for Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“We continually test the experience and look closely at customer feedback,” she mentioned. “If we identify that a response is not meeting our high accuracy bar, we quickly block the content.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google say they deliberately designed their bots to refuse to reply questions on U.S. elections, deciding it’s much less dangerous to direct customers to seek out the info by their serps.

The corporations have taken the identical strategy in Europe, the place the German information website Der Spiegel reported this month that the bots prevented fundamental questions on latest parliamentary elections, together with once they would happen. Google’s Gemini additionally was unable to answer broader political questions, together with a question asking it to establish the nation’s chancellor, in keeping with the German media outlet.

“But shouldn’t the digital company’s flagship AI tool also be able to provide such an answer?” the German newspaper wrote.

The corporations imposed the limits after research discovered the chatbots circulating misinformation about elections in Europe — a possible violation of a landmark new social media legislation that requires tech corporations to implement safeguards towards “negative effects on civic discourse and electoral processes” or face steep fines of as much as 6 % of world income.

Google mentioned it has been “restricting the types of election-related queries for which Gemini app will return responses” since December, citing the want for warning forward of world elections.

Microsoft spokesperson Jeff Jones mentioned “some election-related prompts may be redirected to search” as the firm refines its chatbot forward of November.

Jacob Glick, senior coverage counsel with Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection who served on the House committee investigating Jan. 6, mentioned know-how corporations must be very cautious about feeding inaccurate info.

“As disinformation around the 2024 election gets ramped up, we want to be able to rely on tech companies who are purveyors of information to provide unhesitatingly and maybe unflinchingly clear information about undisputed facts,” he mentioned. “The decisions these companies are making aren’t neutral — they aren’t happening in a vacuum.”

Silicon Valley is more and more liable for sorting truth from fiction on-line, because it builds AI-enabled assistants. On Monday, Apple introduced a partnership with OpenAI, bringing generative AI capabilities to tens of millions of customers to reinforce its Siri voice assistant. Meanwhile, Amazon is making ready to launch a brand new, artificially clever model of its voice assistant as a subscription service in September, in keeping with inner paperwork seen by The Post. Amazon declined to verify the launch date.

It’s unclear how the firm’s AI-enabled Alexa will deal with election queries. A prototype demonstrated in September incorrectly answered questions repeatedly. Amazon nonetheless hasn’t launched the instrument to the basic public, and the firm didn’t reply to questions on how the new model of Alexa will deal with political questions.

Amazon is planning to launch the new product a 12 months after the preliminary demo, however points with unpredictable responses have been elevating questions internally about whether or not it is going to be prepared, in keeping with an worker who spoke on the situation of anonymity to guard their job.

For instance, an Amazon worker who was testing the new Alexa complained to the voice assistant about a difficulty he was having with one other Amazon service, and Alexa responded by providing the worker a free month of Prime. Employees didn’t know whether or not the AI was truly ready or approved to do this, the worker informed The Post.

Amazon mentioned it has been repeatedly testing the new AI Alexa, and may have a excessive bar for its efficiency earlier than launch.

Amazon and Apple have been sluggish to meet up with AI chatbots, given their preliminary dominance of the voice assistant market with Alexa and Siri. “Alexa AI was riddled with technical and bureaucratic problems,” mentioned former Amazon analysis scientist Mihail Eric in a put up on X on Wednesday.

The gadgets division at Amazon that constructed Alexa has struggled lately, shedding its head David Limp in August, an exit that was adopted by layoffs. The group is now run by former Microsoft govt Panos Panay.

But the know-how that these gadgets are constructed on is a special, extra scripted system than the generative AI that powers instruments equivalent to ChatGPT, Gemini and Copilot.

“It’s a totally different architecture,” mentioned Grant Berry, a Villanova University linguistics professor who used to work on Alexa for Amazon.

Berry mentioned voice assistants had been designed to interpret human requests and reply with the right motion — assume, “Alexa, play music” or “Alexa, dim the lights.” In distinction, generative AI chatbots are designed to be conversational, social and informative. Turning the former into the latter isn’t a matter of a easy improve, however of rebuilding the product’s inside, in keeping with Berry.

When Amazon and Apple launch their new assistants, Berry mentioned they’ll be combining the “objective-oriented” assistants with the “socially-oriented” chatbots.

“When those things get blurred, there will be whole new issues we need to be mindful of,” Berry mentioned.

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