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Imagine waking up tomorrow to discover that MLB commissioner Rob Manfeld made another rule change to America’s pastime: All performance-enhancing drugs are legal. Imagine the increases in strength, speed, and stamina that baseball would have to contend with as players from every team experimented with pharmaceutical cocktails to give them the ultimate advantage.
What we’re about to see in the 2024 election cycle, with the introduction of artificial intelligence, is the rise of “performance-enhancing digital.”
AI will revolutionize politics in the months ahead. Across America, digital agencies and operatives – Democrat and Republican – are already experimenting, and while the outcomes are difficult to predict, the differentiating factor for the winning side will be who best leverages AI to its full potential.
For starters, there are extraordinary applications for AI to navigate the oceans of data that campaigns produce. But, while there is plenty of hype around ChatGPT and the myriad of new AI tools introduced in recent months, machine-learning tools from companies like Facebook, Google and Trade Desk have been helping the best agencies accomplish their tasks for years.
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The challenge is interpreting all the insights into actionable strategies. So far, AI struggles doing that job. Even the most cutting-edge AI can’t match the precision of human expertise, when considering all the other inputs that optimize strategy and make a campaign successful – from the speed of today’s news cycle to the responsible use of cash on hand.
The best practice is to leverage AI as an accelerator, allowing politicos to scale ideas much faster once they’ve brainstormed in the first place and decided to execute them.
Copywriting for fundraising emails, captions for social media posts, and scripts for campaign videos can now all be produced with an unprecedented level of speed, personalization and diversity. But, before agencies put their production on AI-autopilot, they need to consider the downsides. I’m personally finding that AI’s output is almost always missing an important, imperceptible quality. (Our team calls it “soul.”)
Soul translates to the special nuances that add authenticity, which is how we connect with voters. We’ve become quite clever with tricks to make AI more accurate, but I’m skeptical of any campaign that leans too heavily on AI-produced content. It will likely contribute to lazy, cookie-cutter messaging that diminishes audience perception and engagement. All that does is hurt your fundraising by leaving your brand vulnerable to being labeled contrived and inauthentic.
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What’s clear is the slippery slope associated with AI. I’m most concerned about misinformation, deep fakes and AI-generated imagery. From what I’ve seen firsthand, it won’t be long at all before discerning reality becomes a challenge – in fact, it is happening already. The imprisonment of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are two examples.)
Just on a practical level, consider a current ethical conundrum: It is acceptable for a political agency to write an email in a candidate’s voice, sign their name and send it to their followers? But what if AI was used to generate the candidate’s script, mimic their voice, and superimpose the words onto pre-captured footage without any visible disclaimers?
That’s not science fiction; those tools are available now. Where do we draw the line?
Agencies and consultants in the politics business typically hold themselves to an ethical standard. However, with the advancement of user-friendly AI tools, deep fakes are surprisingly easy for any individual – with no ties to a given campaign – to generate and distribute with lightning speed. With that in mind, our ethical standard becomes more important than ever before.
Building the AI plane in flight feels monumental. But let’s be clear: AI isn’t ready to run campaigns solo.
Think about baseball: Even if all players started using performance-enhancing drugs, the new norm would soon set in. Coaching, analysis and players’ innate skills would still rule. This election cycle, I predict the digital industry will juice up with AI, but the campaigns with experience and creative firepower will still win out.
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Right now, AI is a tool with mind-boggling potential and boundless scale, but it is a tool that needs human hands. Human beings will still create the true advantage – and win elections.
As for the ethical tightropes, they are currently being navigated by people whose mandate is to win at all costs. Politics will get messier. Many expect AI to be responsible for this election cycle’s “October surprise.” While that may be likely, there is still time for the global public to condition themselves against AI-driven messaging.
As tools become more ubiquitous and further integrated into daily life, we can only hope our eyes for spotting AI will adapt as well. Let us hope we’re fast enough to see the revolution.
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