AI promises to drive the 2024 campaign. It's not yet.

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Artificial intelligence helped predict turnout in Mississippi elections last year, when a group used the technology to transcribe, summarize and synthesize audio recordings of its door-knockers' interactions with voters. For what they are hearing in each county.

Another group recently compared messages translated by humans and AI into six Asian languages ​​and found them all to be equally effective. A Democratic firm tested four versions of a voice-over ad — two spoken by humans, two by AI — and found that a man's AI voice was just as persuasive as its human equivalent (a woman's voice did her own). performed on par with AI).

The era of artificial intelligence has officially arrived on the campaign trail. But the much-anticipated, and feared, technology remains confined to the fringes of American campaigns.

With less than six months until the 2024 election, the political uses of AI are more theoretical than transformative, both as a constructive communication tool or as a way to spread dangerous disinformation. The Biden campaign said it had strictly limited the use of generative AI — which uses prompts to generate text, audio or images — to productivity and data analysis tools, while the Trump campaign said She doesn't use technology at all.

“This is the dog that didn't bark,” said Reed Hoffman, a political consultant to one of the Democratic Party's most generous donors. “We haven't found anything cool that uses generative AI to invest in winning elections this year.”

Mr. Hoffman is hardly an AI skeptic. He was previously on the board of Open AI, and recently sat down for an “interview” with his own version of AI. For now, though, the only political applications of technology worthy of Mr. Hoffman's money and attention are what Mr. Mehlhorn calls “unsexy productivity tools.”

Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist who runs a campaign technology investment fund, agreed. He said AI is changing the way campaigns are run, but in the most boring and mundane ways you can imagine.

Technologists and political activists have little doubt of AI's power to change the political stage. A new report from Higher Ground Labs, which invests in political technology companies to benefit progressive causes and candidates, finds that as long as the technology is in the “experimental phase,” it could be a boon for the Democratic Party going forward. It also represents a “generational opportunity”.

For now, the Democratic National Committee is experimenting more modestly, such as using AI to identify unusual patterns in voter registration records and remove or add voters.

The pilot project included 120 voice memos recorded after meetings with voters that were then transcribed by AI, said Jeanine Abrams McLean, president of FairCount, a nonprofit leading the AI ​​experiment in Mississippi. , the team used an AI toolkit. Map geographic differences in opinion based on what canvassers said about their interactions.

“Voice memo synthesis using this AI model told us that the sentiment coming out of Coahoma County was very active, indicating a plan to vote,” he said. “While we didn't hear the same sentiments at Hattiesburg.”

Certainly, he said, turnout was down in the Hattiesburg area.

Larry Haven, who oversees AI voice-over advertising, said he was surprised by how the AI ​​voices stack up. He and most of his colleagues at the Democratic consulting firm Trilogy Interactive thought the male AI voice was “the most muted”. Yet upon testing it proved convincing.

“You don't necessarily have to have a human voice to deliver an effective ad,” said Mr. Haven, who, as current president of the American Association of Political Consultants, thinks a lot about the ethics and economics of AI technology. Still, he added, tinkering with models to create a new AI voice was as laborious and expensive as hiring a voice actor.

“I don't believe,” he said, “that it actually saved us money.”

Both Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to defend themselves against the threat of a new category of political dark arts, featuring AI-powered disinformation in the form of deepfakes and other false or misleading content. . Ahead of the New Hampshire primary in January, an AI-generated robocall that mimicked President Biden's voice in an attempt to sway votes led to a new federal rule banning such calls.

For regulators, lawmakers and election administrators, the incident underscored their pitfalls in dealing with even new miscreants, who can move more quickly and anonymously. The fake Biden robocall was created by a magician in New Orleans who held the world record for bending forks and escaping a straitjacket. He has said he used an off-the-shelf AI product that took him 20 minutes and cost a dollar.

New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan told the Senate that “what was about it was that a random member of the public who doesn't really have a lot of experience with AI and technology was able to make the call on their own. “. A committee hearing on the role of AI in elections this spring.

AI is “like a match on gasoline,” said Rashad Robinson, who helped write the Aspen Institute's report on information disorder after the 2020 race.

Mr. Robinson, president of Color of Change, a racial justice group, outlined the kind of “nightmare” scenario he said was impossible to prevent. “You can hear a local dignitary calling three thousand people and saying, 'Don't go to the polls because there are armed white men and I'm fighting for an extra day of voting,'” he said. said “The people who are building the tools and platforms that allow this to happen have no real responsibility and no real consequences.”

At the same 11th hour, the prospect of AI-powered disruptions is giving New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Tulos Oliver sleepless nights. In the run-up to his state's primary, he has run an ad campaign warning voters that “AI won't be so obvious this election season” and advising “when in doubt, check it out.”

Most elections, we are behind the eight ball, he said, adding, “And now we have this new wave of activism to deal with.”

AI has already been used to mislead overseas campaigns. In India, an AI version of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed voters by name on WhatsApp. In Taiwan, an AI rendering of outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen appears to be boosting cryptocurrency investment. In Pakistan and Indonesia, dead or jailed politicians have re-emerged as AI avatars to appeal to voters.

So far, most fakes have been easily debunked. But Microsoft's Threat Analysis Center, which studies disinformation, warned in a recent report that deepfake tools are becoming more sophisticated by the day, even if one is capable of influencing a US election. is “likely not to have entered the market yet.”

In the 2024 race, many candidates are approaching artificial intelligence, if at all.

The Trump campaign “does not engage in or use AI,” according to a statement from spokesman Steven Cheung. However, he said, the campaign “uses a set of proprietary algorithmic tools, like many other campaigns across the country, to deliver emails more efficiently and prevent sign-up lists from being populated with false information.” can be stopped.”

However, the Trump campaign's leniency toward AI hasn't stopped his supporters from using the technology to create deeply faked photos of the former president surrounded by black voters, a constituency he's aggressively courting. .

The Biden campaign said it has strictly limited its use of AI. said.

A senior Biden official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations, said AI is often deployed in the campaign to find behind-the-scenes utility, such as checking whether The process of knowing which marketing messages lead to clicks and other forms of engagement is known. As conversational marketing. “Not the stuff of science fiction,” the official added.

Artificial intelligence has taken such a central place in the zeitgeist that some campaigns have found that simply deploying the technology helps drive attention to their messaging.

After the National Republican Congressional Committee last year showed AI-generated images of national parks as immigrant tent cities, there was a flurry of news coverage. In response to a recording released by the former president's daughter-in-law Lara Trump (her song called “Anything Is Possible”), the Democratic National Committee used AI to release a diss mocking Ms. Trump and the GOP fund. Made a track. Picking up, gaining the attention of celebrity gossip site TMZ.

Digital political strategists, however, are still discovering how well AI tools actually work. While many involve the mundane efforts of data crunching, some include new ideas, such as an AI-powered eye contact tool to prevent a person in a video from breaking eye contact, which uses scripted videos. Can smooth recording. With the White House preventing the release of audio of Mr. Biden's interview with a special counsel, Republicans could instead use an AI-generated track of Mr. Biden reading the transcript for dramatic effect.

“I don't know a single person who hasn't tried writing their own content beforehand,” Kenneth Pennington, a Democratic digital strategist, said of using generative AI to write early drafts of fundraising messages. said “But I also don't know many people who felt the process was effective.”

In Pennsylvania, a congressional candidate used an AI-powered phone banking service to conduct interactive phone conversations with thousands of voters.

“I share everyone's deep concerns about the potential nefarious uses of AI in politics and elsewhere,” candidate Shamin Daniels said on Facebook. “But we need to understand and embrace the opportunities that this technology represents.”

He finished the competition a distant third.

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