AI Could Save Politics — Must Destroy Politics First

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Depending on who you ask in politics, the sudden advances in artificial intelligence will either change American democracy for the better or bring about its collapse. At this point, the doomsday voices are getting louder. Voice spoofing techniques and deepfake videos are terrifying election strategists, who fear the technology could decide the winner if introduced days before the 2024 election. Some AI developers worry about what they have unleashed. Last week, his CEO of the company that runs ChatGPT effectively begged Congress to regulate his industry. (Whether it was true civic spirit or a selfish performance remains to be seen.)

But amid the growing panic, a new generation of tech entrepreneurs are touting a more optimistic future of the marriage of AI and politics. They say AI’s astonishing ability to automate can do in a matter of years what decades of attempts at campaign finance reform have failed to do: slash the cost of running for office in the United States. It has the potential to be achieved. Candidates will have less need to hire expensive consultants if AI can handle the most mundane and time-consuming tasks of a campaign, such as mass-producing press releases or identifying and targeting supporters. The result could be a more open and accessible democracy, allowing even small, bare bones campaigns to compete with well-financed giants.

Martin Kurtz, founder of a Democratic fundraising firm that is betting big on AI, calls the technology a “great equalizer.” “More delegates will show up,” he told me. It is very large in itself. “

Kurtz said his company, Sterling Data Company, is using AI to potentially identify more than 1,000 Democratic campaigns and committees, including the Democratic Congressional Election Commission and current Senator John Fetterman. said it is helping to identify potential donors. The speed with which AI can sort through donor files has allowed Sterling to cut prices by nearly half last year, allowing it to serve even smaller campaigns, Kurz said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a candidate with so many downvotes who have some degree of digital fundraising,” Kurz said. “These candidates now have access to the proper electoral infrastructure.”

Campaigns large and small are beginning to use generative AI software like ChatGPT and DALL-E to create digital ads, proofread, and even create press releases and fundraising pitches. . A few consultants have told me that most are just experimenting with AI, but Kurtz said AI’s impact is far-reaching. “Almost half of the first drafts of fundraising emails are produced by ChatGPT,” he claimed. “Not too many [campaigns] will admit it publicly. “

But for voters who are tired of being bombarded with ads, canned emails and soliciting donations during the election season, the introduction of AI may not be such welcome news. Republican strategist Tom Newhouse told me the ads will be more targeted. Because campaigns can use AI to sort voter data, run performance tests, and create dozens of highly specific ads with far fewer staff. The change could close the gap between smaller campaigns and wealthier rivals, he said.

But some political consultants I spoke to were skeptical that technology would democratize campaigning any time soon. First, AI isn’t just for poor, underfunded campaigns. Well-funded organizations use this to test and rapidly create hundreds of highly specific ads, or to pinpoint recruiting efforts in ways that extend their advantage. You can expand your capabilities exponentially.

Amanda Littman, founder of Run for Something, the first organization to recruit progressive candidates, told me the job seekers she works for aren’t focused on AI. In hyperlocal races, the candidate who knocks the most doors still wins. Robots aren’t taking the job, and if they could, who would want a robot to do it? “The most important thing for a candidate is their relationship with voters,” Littman said. “AI can’t replicate that, at least not yet.”

Election campaigns using AI have begun, but the impact isn’t always apparent, even to political figures. Fetterman’s Pennsylvania campaign teamed up with Kurtz’s AI-first firm, but two of Fetterman’s former advisers scoffed at the notion that technology played a meaningful role in his victory. “I don’t remember anyone using AI for anything in that campaign,” digital consultant Kenneth Pennington, one of the early adopters of the Fetterman campaign, told me. Pennington, a partner at a forward-thinking consulting firm called Middle Sheet, said the company has not adopted the use of generative AI in a noticeable way and has no immediate plans. “Part of our approach and selling point as a team and as a company is authenticity and creativity. . “It’s a robot. I don’t think it’s ready for the prime time of politics.”

If AI optimists and pessimists agree, it is that the technology will enable more people to participate in the political process. Whether it’s a good thing is another matter.

Just as an AI platform enabled a schoolteacher running for city council to draft a press release between grading papers, a far-right activist with millions of followers could use the press to do so. You can also help create a release. Semi-believable deepfake video President Joe Biden announces military draft.

“We’ve democratized access to the ability to create sophisticated fakes,” said Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at the University of California, Berkeley.

Concerns about deepfakes have grown even more over the past month. In response to Mr. Biden’s formal announcement of his re-election bid, the Republican National Committee released a video depicting a dystopian future using AI-generated imagery. Within days, Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York introduced a bill requiring political ads to disclose the use of generative AI (RNC ads did). Earlier this month, the bipartisan Association of Political Consultants of America issued a statement condemning the use of “deepfake-generated AI content” as a violation of its code of ethics.

Nearly everyone I interviewed for this article expressed some level of concern about the role deepfakes could play in the 2024 election. One scenario that has surfaced repeatedly is the possibility that a compelling deepfake was released on the eve of the election and the time between widely debunking it was too short. Ms Clark said she was particularly concerned about bad actors stifling votes by publishing audio or video hoaxes of credible voices from certain communities announcing changes or closures to voting sites.

But the true nightmare scenario is what Farid called “death by a thousand cuts,” the slow bleeding of deepfakes that destroy trust in real soundbites and videos. “Once we enter this world where anything can be fake, we can deny reality. Nothing has to be real,” Farid said.

This alarm extends beyond politics. A consortium of media and technology companies advocates a global set of standards for the use of AI, including efforts to authenticate images and videos, and identify AI-generated or manipulated content through watermarks and other digital fingerprints. doing. . This group was led by Adobe, whose Photoshop helped popularize computer image editing. “If we don’t solve the deepfake problem, we believe it will be an existential threat to democracy,” Adobe general counsel Dana Rao told me. “If people don’t have the means to believe the truth, we won’t be able to make policy, law, and government decisions.”

Not everyone is so worried. As vice president of the American Association of Political Consultants, Larry Heung helped draft a statement the organization condemned deepfakes and warned members against using them. But he’s relatively unconcerned about the threat they pose. “Frankly, in my experience, it’s harder than most people think,” said Hyun, whose day job is delivering digital strategies to Democratic clients, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. said. “Am I afraid of it? No,” Hyung told me. “Are you concerned that there will always be bad guys doing bad things? That’s just life.”

Betsy Hoover, a former Obama campaign organizer who now runs a venture capital fund that invests in campaign technology, argued that voters have more insight than people give them credit for. In her view, decades of steadily sophisticated disinformation campaigns have made voters question what they see on the internet. “Voters have had to decide for a really long time what to listen to and where to get information,” she told me. “And in the end, for the most part, they figured it out.”

Deepfake videos will certainly become more convincing, but for now, many are easy to spot. For example, people impersonating Biden have done a good job recreating his voice and appearance. But they make him sound slightly, well, younger than he actually is. His speech is smoother and free of the stuttering and stuttering of words that have become more prominent in recent years. “You need people with real skills,” he said, to take advantage of this technology. “Give me a soccer ball. I can’t hit it 50 yards yet.”

The same limitations apply to AI’s potential to revolutionize campaigns, as anyone who has tried ChatGPT can attest. When I asked his ChatGPT to write a press release for the Trump campaign announcing the hypothetical endorsement of the former president by current Republican rival Nikki Haley, the bot within seconds sent me the form of a press release. He delivered a practical first draft that accurately captured the Although common, Trump and Haley’s quotes are credible. But it left out important background information lower-ranking officials would know, such as Haley’s past as governor of South Carolina and then as President Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Still, anyone confident enough to predict the impact of AI on elections nearly a year and a half away is making a risky bet. ChatGPT didn’t even exist six months ago. Uncertainty pervaded my conversations with proponents and skeptics alike of this technology. Pennington told me to take what he said about AI “with a grain of salt”, including its potential and its dangers. Because he could be proven wrong. “I think some people exaggerate it too much. I think some people don’t think they should,” Hoover said. “All of these things are evolving day by day, so there is a really wide range.”

This constant and rapid evolution is what sets AI apart from other technologies that have been touted as destroyers of democracy. “This is one of the few technologies in Earth’s history that has been advancing continuously and exponentially,” said Stirling founder Kurtz. Of all the predictions I’ve heard about the impact of AI on campaigns, his predictions are the most certain. (You’d probably want to take his predictions with a grain of salt, too, as AI underlies his talks about selling to clients.) Exactly how quickly AI can change campaigns is He didn’t know, but he was sure it would.

“We don’t need average people, average consultants, and average stuff anymore,” Kurz said. “AI can do average things,” he said, criticizing skeptics in the field, including Blockbuster executives who passed up the chance to buy Netflix before the startup finally killed the video rental giant. was likened to “Old guards aren’t ready to be replaced yet,” Kurz concluded.

Hoover didn’t display such bravado, but said Democrats in particular shouldn’t let fear of AI deter them from trying to harness its potential. “The genie came out of the bottle,” she said. “So as campaigners we have a choice: either take the good from it and make our work better and more effective, or hide under a rock and be here because it scares us. or pretend it doesn’t exist.”

“I don’t think we can afford the latter,” she added.

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