Published on September 19th, 2023 📆 | 3148 Views ⚑


The US Congress Has Trust Issues. Generative AI Is Making It Worse


But many politicians haven’t gotten the post-fact memo, which is why most lawmakers are praising Google’s recent announcement that it will require disclosure of “synthetic,” AI-generated content in political ads.

“It’s a real concern. We have to have a way for folks to easily verify that what they're seeing is reality,” says Michigan senator Gary Peters, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But can new technology do what today’s political leaders have failed to do and restore faith in the American political system? Doubtful. Americans—with unseen assistance from the algorithms that now run our digital lives—increasingly live in different political universes. Some 69 percent of Republicans now believe US president Joe Biden lost in 2020, while upwards of 90 percent of the GOP thinks news outlets intentionally publish lies. On the other side, 85 percent of Democrats think former president Donald Trump is guilty of interfering with the 2020 election.

“We now truly believe that facts are malleable, and so the ability to move people is becoming more difficult. So I think the big problem of deepfakes is not that it's going to have this direct impact on the election, it is that it's going to have an even greater contribution to decreasing the faith of people in institutions,” Mintz says.

Congress could force all tech companies to watermark AI-generated content, as many on Capitol Hill support, but that would amount to window dressing in today’s political climate.

“Honestly, I don't think that that is going to solve the problem,” says Chinmayi Arun, executive director of the Information Society Project and a research scholar at Yale Law School. “It’s a rebuilding of trust, but the new technologies also make a disruptive version of this possible. And that's also kind of why maybe it's necessary to label them so that people know that.”

At least one senator seems to agree. Senator J. D. Vance, an Ohio Republican, says it may be a good thing for all of us to mistrust what we see online. “I'm actually pretty optimistic that over the long term, what it's going to do is just make people disbelieve everything they see on the internet, but I think in the interim, it actually could cause some real disruptions,” Vance says.

In 2016 and 2020, misinformation and disinformation became synonymous with American politics, but we’ve now entered a deepfake era marked by the democratization of the tools of deception, subtle as they may be, with a realistic voice-over here or a precisely polished fake photo there.

Generative AI doesn’t just help easily remake the world into one’s political fantasies, its power is also in its ability to precisely transmit those fakes to the most ideologically vulnerable communities where they have the greatest ability to spark a raging e-fire. Vance doesn’t see one legislative fix for these complex and intertwined issues.

“There's probably, on the margins, things that you can do to help, but I don't think that you can really control these viral things until there's just a generalized level of skepticism, which I do think we'll get there,” Vance says.

“Scripted” Political Theater

Over the summer, Schumer and a bipartisan group of senators led three private all-Senate AI briefings, which have now dovetailed into these new tech forums.

The briefings are a change for a chamber filled with 100 camera-loving politicians who are known for talking. During normal committee hearings, senators have become experts at raising money—and sometimes gaining knowledge—off asking made-for-YouTube questions, but not this time. While they won’t be able to question the assembled tech experts this week, Schumer and the other hosts will be playing puppet masters off stage.

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