“A.I.’s Use in Elections Sets Off a Scramble for Guardrails”


What began a few months ago as a slow drip of fund-raising emails and promotional images composed by A.I. for political campaigns has turned into a steady stream of campaign materials created by the technology, rewriting the political playbook for democratic elections around the world.

Increasingly, political consultants, election researchers and lawmakers say setting up new guardrails, such as legislation reining in synthetically generated ads, should be an urgent priority. Existing defenses, such as social media rules and services that claim to detect A.I. content, have failed to do much to slow the tide.

As the 2024 U.S. presidential race starts to heat up, some of the campaigns are already testing the technology. The Republican National Committee released a video with artificially generated images of doomsday scenarios after President Biden announced his re-election bid, while Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida posted fake images of former President Donald J. Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former health official. The Democratic Party experimented with fund-raising messages drafted by artificial intelligence in the spring — and found that they were often more effective at encouraging engagement and donations than copy written entirely by humans.

Some politicians see artificial intelligence as a way to help reduce campaign costs, by using it to create instant responses to debate questions or attack ads, or to analyze data that might otherwise require expensive experts.

At the same time, the technology has the potential to spread disinformation to a wide audience. An unflattering fake video, an email blast full of false narratives churned out by computer or a fabricated image of urban decay can reinforce prejudices and widen the partisan divide by showing voters what they expect to see, experts say.

The technology is already far more powerful than manual manipulation — not perfect, but fast improving and easy to learn. In May, the chief executive of OpenAI, Sam Altman, whose company helped kick off an artificial intelligence boom last year with its popular ChatGPT chatbot, told a Senate subcommittee that he was nervous about election season.

I canvass a lot of these risks to elections in Cheap Speech.

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