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Saturday, June 22, 2024

A.I. Deepfakes Threaten the Integrity of Elections

'The idea is every Democratic strategist, every Democratic candidate will have a copilot in their pocket...'

(Headline USA) Sophisticated generative AI tools can now create cloned human voices and hyper-realistic images, videos and audio in seconds, at minimal cost.

When strapped to powerful social media algorithms, this fake and digitally created content can spread far and fast and target highly specific audiences, potentially taking campaign dirty tricks to a new low.

The implications for the 2024 campaigns and elections are as large as they are troubling: Generative AI can not only rapidly produce targeted campaign emails, texts or videos, it also could be used to mislead voters, impersonate candidates and undermine elections on a scale and at a speed not yet seen.

“We’re not prepared for this,” warned A.J. Nash, vice president of intelligence at the cybersecurity firm ZeroFox. “To me, the big leap forward is the audio and video capabilities that have emerged. When you can do that on a large scale, and distribute it on social platforms, well, it’s going to have a major impact.”

AI experts can quickly rattle off a number of alarming scenarios in which generative AI is used to create synthetic media for the purposes of confusing voters, slandering a candidate or even inciting violence.

Here are a few: Automated robocall messages, in a candidate’s voice, instructing voters to cast ballots on the wrong date; audio recordings of a candidate supposedly confessing to a crime or expressing racist views; video footage showing someone giving a speech or interview they never gave. Fake images designed to look like local news reports, falsely claiming a candidate dropped out of the race.

“What if Elon Musk personally calls you and tells you to vote for a certain candidate?” said Oren Etzioni, the founding CEO of the Allen Institute for AI, who stepped down last year to start the nonprofit AI2. “A lot of people would listen. But it’s not him.”

Petko Stoyanov, global chief technology officer at Forcepoint, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, predicted that groups looking to meddle with U.S. democracy will employ AI and synthetic media as a way to erode trust.

“What happens if an international entity — a cybercriminal or a nation state — impersonates someone. What is the impact? Do we have any recourse?” Stoyanov said. “We’re going to see a lot more misinformation from international sources.”

AI images appearing to show Trump’s mug shot also fooled some social media users even though the former president didn’t take one when he was booked and arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court for falsifying business records. Other AI-generated images showed Trump resisting arrest.

Earlier this month, a trade association for political consultants in Washington condemned the use of deepfakes in political advertising, calling them “a deception” with “no place in legitimate, ethical campaigns.”

Other forms of artificial intelligence have for years been a feature of political campaigning, using data and algorithms to automate tasks such as targeting voters on social media or tracking down donors. Campaign strategists and tech entrepreneurs hope the most recent innovations will offer some positives in 2024, too.

Mike Nellis, CEO of the progressive digital agency Authentic, said he uses ChatGPT “every single day” and encourages his staff to use it, too, as long as any content drafted with the tool is reviewed by human eyes afterward.

Nellis’ newest project, in partnership with Higher Ground Labs, is an AI tool called Quiller. It will write, send and evaluate the effectiveness of fundraising emails –- all typically tedious tasks on campaigns.

“The idea is every Democratic strategist, every Democratic candidate will have a copilot in their pocket,” he said.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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