The RNC Created a Negative AI-Generated Ad in Response to Biden’s Reelection Bid

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
The RNC Created a Negative AI-Generated Ad in Response to Biden’s Reelection Bid
Evan Xie

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden announced his intention to run for re-election in 2024, and the Republican National Committee (RNC) has responded with a negative ad, imagining the dystopian future awaiting us should he secure a second term. The video is made up entirely of images created by generative AI software, appearing to show President Biden and VP Harris’ victory celebration, followed by nightmarish images of the immediate consequences for Americans. (These include a flood of new immigrants arriving at the southern border, various international conflicts, and a new financial crisis.) It’s the RNC’s first entirely AI-generated ad in history, and one of the first major political ads created by a generative AI app in U.S. history.


While some of the ad’s images look fairly lifelike, there remains an uncanny surreality to many shots. The creators of the ad have employed this purposefully, suggesting not verifiable reality but an imagined, “dark” future if the Republican candidate utlimately loses the election. The current state of generative AI is rather ideal for designing a dystopian near-future, rather than an entirely credible and compelling vision of our own world.

Still, the existence of an AI-generated political ad – a year and a half before Americans actually go to the polls – serves as something of a canary in the coal mine moment. Whether or not AI apps will impact politics is no longer a purely theoretical question: the technology is here right now, and it’s already making a difference.

The Growing Concerns of AI-Created Misinformation in Elections

Not surprisingly, the ability of generative AI apps to create credible fake images, audio clips, or even videos has received most of the attention. Putting words in a candidate’s mouth or depict them in a compromising scenario obviously has a lot of psychic power. If AI fakes were believable enough, and spread far enough before being discredited, they could theoretically sway an election entirely on their own.

Many of these concerns pre-date the 2023 explosion of interest in AI apps. In 2020, and even as far back as 2016, voters were warned about the potential of social media platforms and “deepfakes” to spread misinformation about candidates and their positions on the issues. The technology has only become more sophisticated over time; nothing like the new RNC ad was remotely possible when the first warnings about deepfakes appeared in the press.

Even more regrettably, it’s becoming increasingly clear that cutting-edge, extremely polished AI apps probably aren’t even going to be necessary to fool a lot of voters. Over the last few election cycles, communication experts have found that you can trick a lot of people with so-called “cheapfakes,” which rely on basic editing techniques rather than high-tech solutions like generative AI. One viral video from the 2020 election claimed to locate a hidden wire on Joe Biden, used to feed him information during a debate. Even though the line was just an undoctored crease in Biden’s shirt, the fake video was shared thousands of times.

The Washington Post reports that political campaigns have started reaching out to social media platforms – including Facebook owners Meta – about how they plan to combat the spread of AI-created misinformation. According to the article, Meta responded that it will employ “independent fact-checkers” to examine media and apply warning labels to “dubious content.” This apparently raised concerns among the campaigns, as human fact-checkers can sometimes be slow to react to fast-spreading viral falsehoods, and can’t really deal with content that’s being rapidly shared and duplicated by users.

For their part, the Post has a three-part strategy for members of the public attempting to identify deepfakes: check out the hands, look for gibberish or garbled text, and scan the background for blurry or distorted details. These are of course the well-known glitches and sticking points for generative AI apps; concerningly, we’re seeing constant improvement on these fronts. Midjourney is already capable of producing lifelike hands.

It’s important to note, as well, that the existence of credible “deepfakes” and AI-generated videos also gives politicians a potential out, even when confronted with real evidence of divisive statements or outright wrongdoing. If the infamous behind-the-scenes “Access Hollywood” recording to Donald Trump were released today, for example, rather than in 2016, the former president could simply deny that was his actual voice, opening room for doubt among supporters.

Opportunities for AI in Copywriting, Micro-Targeting, and Polling

Concerns about manipulated audio, images and videos have sucked up most of the oxygen around the political impact of AI, but they’re just one of many ways that the technology will likely play a role in the 2024 presidential race, along with all future US elections. According to a recent piece from Politico, campaigns are very aware of the potential impact of AI technology, but remain in the brainstorming phase about how to employ it for their personal benefit.

Many of the ideas about how to use AI center around copywriting. ChatGPT and similar products may sometimes decline to address specific political issues, due to guardrails installed by the creators to avoid potentially controversial or even upsetting responses. But they can still be used to outline and workshop campaign emails to get a sense for how various approaches and phrases could play for an audience. According to The New York Times, the Democratic Party has already started testing out the use of AI apps in composing fundraising emails, and has apparently found that – on occasion – the apps come up with pitches that worked more effectively than their human-composed counterparts.

The same kinds of Large Language Models (LLMs) that power apps like ChatGPT could be used for what’s known in the political world as “micro-targeting.” In general, this just refers to creating political ads and messaging that’s likely to have a lot of appeal and impact for a narrow, niche audience. With AI apps’ ability to scan and process so much data so quickly, theoretically, it’s possible they could micro-target political advertising on an incredibly narrow scale, potentially even customizing ads in some small ways for each individual viewer based on their pre-existing biases and preferences.

Similarly, heavily customizable and granular political polling presents another oppotunity for AI to make its presence known. Earlier this month, a team composed of both political and computer scientists from Brigham Young University used ChatGPT-3 to mimic a political survey, tweaking responses based on demographics like race, age, ideology, and religion. When comparing their results to actual poll results from the 2012, 2016, and 2020 US presidential campaigns, they found a high correspondence between the AI responses and real voters. AI “focus groups” could thus become a way to test out all kinds of potential strategies, slogans, speeches, and approaches, allowing campaigns to tweak and fine-tune their messaging before it’s ever even presented to an actual human audience.

So is AI a Real Threat to the 2024 Election?

Not everyone is convinced that the end is nigh and these potential AI threats are real and bonafide concerns. This week, British journalist Gavin Haynes argued that journalists – not AI apps – present the gravest challenge to a free and fair 2024 presidential race. Haynes notes that ideas like “AI focus groups,” while they might have some utility, are necessarily tied to the past. The application itself was trained on what people previously said about their political opinions and ideas, not how they feel today, or how they will feel next week, presenting a natural barrier to their utility in fast-moving political campaigns. He also points out that, so far, conventional reporting has been pretty good at pushing back against fraudulent deepfakes. Even that relatively believable image of the Pope in a puffer jacket was debunked almost immediately, and it wasn’t particularly shocking.

As we’ve seen in the last several election cycles, misinformation doesn’t require artificial intelligence to help it spread. Still, Haynes’ certainty that responsible journalism can adequately push back against whatever AI apps can throw at your feed feels a bit premature. We’ve yet to see what tactics the candidates’ campaigns are going to come up with for these tools, let alone what lone wolf bad actors around the web are going to do independently once the election really starts to heat up.

🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

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Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

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Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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