Guess what! An amazingly lifelike simulacrum of Donald Trump’s mind has been released to the public! You may think that actually happened decades ago, when Atari debuted Pong—but no. That was just the beta version. Artificial intelligence-generated copies of all the leading presidential candidates are now available for the first time to a public that somehow hasn’t heard enough preprogrammed gibberish from Vivek Ramaswamy yet. And maybe the chat version of Mike Pence will be able to pass the Turing test—because we know the real Mike couldn’t possibly do it.
In other words, we’re entering a brave new world in which AI may not steal your job, but it could very well rob you of your sanity.
Of course, AI has already dipped its toe into the shallow end of the political pool. For instance, a super PAC supporting Miami mayor and GOP presidential candidate Francis Suarez launched an AI chatbot to bolster his campaign in July before Suarez dropped out of the race at the end of August. And you can watch dadaistic, herky-jerky versions of Trump and President Joe Biden debating 24/7 on Twitch.tv. But the Chat2024 project is taking AI politics to a new level.
On Wednesday, the project will officially unveil the AI-powered avatars of 17 leading presidential candidates. Each one is a chatbot trained on reams of data generated from at least a hundred sources, like candidates’ video appearances and writings. Users can query the bots individually, ask the same question of all 17 at once, or set any two of them against each other in one-on-one debates directed by user input.
Based on DFD’s preliminary testing of the avatars on Chat2024.com, which has gone live ahead of the project’s official launch, the bots aren’t exactly the AI overlords that some tech critics fear could soon rule humanity. But credible AI replicas of society’s would-be leaders do amount to a step in that direction.
Good God, imagine if SkyNet becomes sentient while Donald Trump’s mind is rattling around in there. We’d have to send Terminators back to the ‘90s disguised as either Ivanka or Mayor McCheese. Who else could get close enough to deliver the coup de grâce?
But this isn’t just about Max Head Wound and his usual barmy bits and bytes. According to Dara Ladjevardian, co-founder of the AI firm Delphi, the project isn’t just a publicity stunt for his company. He claims it can play a significant role in the future of politics.
He said the project was inspired by his experience knocking on doors in the Houston area to support a losing congressional bid by his mother, Democrat Sima Ladjevardian, who ran to unseat Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw in 2020. He found that most voters learned about candidates from snippets of television coverage, and argues that chatbots provide a more engaging, in-depth alternative. He hopes the presidential bots will attract the attention of campaigns up and down the ballot and entice them to pay to host the avatars on their own websites.
Ladjevardian also says the AI avatars will give campaigns a way to show off their candidates, and the feedback they generate could give candidates a better sense of what voters are thinking.
For its part, Politico assessed that the AI avatars were “pretty good,” but they “haven’t yet achieved a perfect imitation.” And not just because AI Trump runs on electricity instead of perpetual white grievance and spongecake. For one thing, Delphi’s chatbots are still text-only avatars. Ladjevardian said his company is currently waiting for AI technology to improve to the point where audiovisual versions of the candidates would be feasible.
“It’s almost at the creepy point right now,” Ladjevardian said of AI video. “It’s not good enough where it feels realistic.”
Meanwhile, as we appear to approach what some see as an inevitable—and potentially dangerous—technological singularity, AI technology continues to advance at a head-spinning pace. That pace has been so rapid, in fact, that Ladjevardian believes these politician-bots will have improved significantly by November 2024. “These things are going to figure themselves out very fast,” he told Politico.
In April, The Atlantic ran a story presciently titled, “Just Wait Until Trump Is a Chatbot.” It notes that AI is already making its way into campaigns, and its future applications appear nearly limitless.
The applications of AI to political advertising have not escaped campaigners, who are already “pressure testing” possible uses for the technology. In the 2024 presidential-election campaign, you can bank on the appearance of AI-generated personalized fundraising emails, text messages from chatbots urging you to vote, and maybe even some deepfaked campaign avatars. Future candidates could use chatbots trained on data representing their views and personalities to approximate the act of directly connecting with people.
The key is interaction. A candidate could use tools enabled by large language models, or LLMs—the technology behind apps such as ChatGPT and the art-making DALL-E—to do micro-polling or message testing, and to solicit perspectives and testimonies from their political audience individually and at scale. The candidates could potentially reach any voter who possesses a smartphone or computer, not just the ones with the disposable income and free time to attend a campaign rally. At its best, AI could be a tool to increase the accessibility of political engagement and ease polarization. At its worst, it could propagate misinformation and increase the risk of voter manipulation. Whatever the case, we know political operatives are using these tools. To reckon with their potential now isn’t buying into the hype—it’s preparing for whatever may come next.
With few laws to manage the spread of the technology, disinformation experts have long warned that deepfake videos could further sever people’s ability to discern reality from forgeries online, potentially being misused to set off unrest or incept a political scandal. Those predictions have now become reality.
Although the use of deepfakes in the recently discovered pro-China disinformation campaign was ham-handed, it opens a new chapter in information warfare. In recent weeks, another video using similar A.I. technology was uncovered online, showing fictitious people who described themselves as Americans, promoting support for the government of Burkina Faso, which faces scrutiny for links to Russia.
A.I. software, which can easily be purchased online, can create “videos in a matter of minutes and subscriptions start at just a few dollars a month,” Mr. Stubbs said. “That makes it easier to produce content at scale.”