From President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats over the radio to John F. Kennedy utilizing his photogenic looks in a televised debate to claim victory over Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama’s leveraging of social media in 2008, technology has always paved the path in U.S. politics. A new technical revolution of relatively uncharted technology, artificial intelligence (AI), is poised to play a significant role in the upcoming 2024 presidential race and bring new challenges to it.
Campaigns on both sides of the aisle are expected to utilize AI technology for voter outreach efforts and to rapidly produce fundraising newsletters. Experts caution that while these advancements are set to change campaign operations in a modern era, the tools can be exploited by bad actors to sow chaos and further polarize voters.
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Examples of AI-generated images of political figures that may be misleading to some viewers have already emerged as a preview of what may become increasingly more common in the lead-up to the 2024 race. In one instance, a viral fake image created by an AI art generator, Midjorney 5, depicted Former President Donald Trump running from and being arrested by New York police officers. The creator of the fake images was banned from the Midjorney platform, but ultimately not from Twitter since his posts indicated that he was “making pictures.”
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) March 20, 2023
Last month, in response to Biden’s re-election campaign announcement, the Republican National Committee (RNC) released an AI-generated video portraying a dystopian future if Joe Biden were to serve a second term, featuring photo-realistic images of panic on Wall Street, China dropping bombs over Taiwan, a migrant border invasion, and a martial law takeover of San Francisco amid uncontrolled crime.
AI-generated audio clips, deemed “Presidential Overwatch Debate,” showing Biden and Trump exchanging insults circulated on social media platforms earlier this year.
presidential overwatch debate pic.twitter.com/SFoFwuU2yA
— Vortex (@voretecks) February 12, 2023
While AI can be used to generate misleading content, also known as “deep fakes,” another potential impact is that skepticism towards legacy media sources could increase. There are additional concerns that political candidates might potentially dismiss incriminating evidence by claiming it is fake — which they already do — as in the case of the Hunter Biden laptop story.
Proponents of AI argue that it can be a game-changing tool for understanding voters. AI can provide insights into the concerns and motivations of potential voters, enabling campaigns to engage with them more effectively and craft policy platforms reflecting voters’ top-priority issues.
Campaigns are already using AI to analyze millions of data points. According to Martin Kurucz, the CEO of Sterling Data Company, a firm that collaborates with Democratic campaigns, an average donor’s profile encompasses approximately 500 to 1,000 distinct data points, including their political interests, demographic information, and income level.
Kurucz conveyed the magnitude of the task by envisioning a massive spreadsheet containing millions of rows, each representing a voter, and a thousand data points assigned to each row. Kurucz explained, “There is no human being that is able to synthesize that information, but AI can.”
While fears of new technology are common, excitement about the tools is widespread, too. Tom Newhouse, vice president of digital marketing at Converge Media, a Republican advertising and consulting firm spoke about AI’s positive impacts, saying:
From a professional standpoint, I’m excited. From a personal standpoint, it’s tough not to get concerned that the trends of the last decade are going to continue as far as laying the burden at the feet of the voters to figure out what’s true and what’s false.
AI’s real impact on campaigning will be behind the scenes. It’s going to be improving fundraising capabilities by better targeting, whether that is location targeting, income, hobbies or habits, providing campaigns with up-to-date voter data, more personalized advertising, [or] messages.
Joe Rospars, the founder of left-wing political consultancy Blue State, suggested the impacts of AI reflect the values of those who are using it, saying:
The impact of AI will reflect the values of those using it — bad actors, in particular, have new tools to supercharge their efforts to fuel hate and suspicion or to falsify images, sound, or video in an effort to bamboozle the press and public. Combating those efforts will require vigilance by the media and tech companies and by voters themselves.
While carrying a potential for misuse, the technology has a rapid-paced trajectory and the benefits of AI should not be disregarded. The ability to generate and evaluate content at an unprecedented scale and speed will be employed by political campaigns in the upcoming presidential election, as it’s being used already. 2024 will be the year AI charts its course in US political history, as radio, TV, and social media did before it.
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