Fika Juliana Putri, a 19-year-old shopkeeper from East Jakarta, plans to vote in Indonesia’s presidential election next week. She supports a once-feared former special forces commander. She says she likes him because he is cuddly.
Generative AI showcases a doe-eyed cartoon version of Gen. Prabowo Subianto on billboards across Indonesia. It appears prominently on #Prabowo-tagged posts on TikTok, which have received approximately 19 billion views.
Prabowo is Indonesia’s Defense Minister. On social media, his chubby-cheeked AI avatar actively creates Korean-style finger hearts and cradles his beloved cat, Bobby. These actions delight Generation Z voters. Approximately half of Indonesia’s 205 million voters are under the age of forty.
On February 14, Indonesia’s general elections may reveal how generative AI transforms large-scale political campaigning, according to experts. These elections highlight the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the political landscape, according to the experts.
The AI-generated cartoon has been central to Prabowo’s electoral rebranding, as he leads polls by a significant margin. In two previous failed presidential campaigns, the 72-year-old portrayed himself as a fiery nationalist. Now, he has adopted a new catchphrase, “gemoy,” an Indonesian slang term for cute and cuddly.
“I’ll vote for him because he’s gemoy,” said Putri, who is voting for the first time. “That’s the main reason.”
Leading hundreds of candidates, Prabowo, along with his doppelganger created with technology from US firm Midjourney Inc, utilizes generative AI tools. They use these tools to create campaign art, track social media sentiment, build interactive chatbots, and target voters.
The Prabowo campaign and Midjourney, whose guidelines prohibit its use for political campaigns, did not respond to requests for comment.
Katie Harbath, the former top election policy official at Meta (META.O) until 2021, stated, “This is the first election where we’re witnessing the extensive use of these tools.” She now writes a newsletter about technology and democracy.
Harbath expressed surprise at the rapid adoption of AI tools by Indonesian campaigns. She stated it’s too early to assess the overall electoral impact of this “unprecedented and groundbreaking” use of technology. Nevertheless, she emphasized the need for a thorough evaluation in the future.
Reuters, engaging with a diverse group of 26 individuals, assessed the use of AI technology in Indonesia’s campaign. The participants included political advisors, lobbyists, tech executives, experts, and artists specializing in creating generative AI images for politicians. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media.
Describing vendors and campaigns, they actively pushed the boundaries of guidelines set by providers like Midjourney and OpenAI, the leading generative AI company. These actions showcased a deliberate effort to challenge norms and explore new possibilities in the industry. The Indonesian government has yet to establish binding rules for the use of AI tools.
This year, one-third of the world’s population, including the United States and India, will vote. According to seven political lobbyists and experts, Indonesia’s elections serve as a test for how OpenAI will actively police its policies.
Nine senior campaign staffers told Reuters that OpenAI powers many of the AI tools used in Indonesia’s election. According to the coordinator of Prabowo’s digital team, this includes the platform itself.
Last month, the San Francisco-based owner of ChatGPT announced rules prohibiting its use for political campaigning. This decision was made in response to global concerns about AI interfering with elections. These include prohibitions on creating images of real people, including politicians.
OpenAI said it was looking into political chatbots and tools identified by Reuters in Indonesia as using its technology. An initial review found “no evidence” of its tools being used in the election, and the company stated its commitment to transparency and promoting accurate information. Additionally, it emphasized its dedication to ensuring a clear and trustworthy electoral process.
Political consultant Yose Rizal, who created the Pemilu.AI app, utilizes OpenAI’s GPT-4 and 3.5 software. With these tools, he actively develops hyper-local campaign strategies and speeches.
The Indonesian consultant stated that he had sold the app’s services to 700 legislative candidates. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the sales.
Pemilu.AI actively collects demographic information, and concurrently, it crawls social media and news websites. This process enables the generation of speeches, slogans, and social media content tailored specifically to a constituency.
Candidates list their political priorities and decide how they want to be portrayed. Rizal states that politicians using Pemilu.AI in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, should be “humble” and “religious.” These traits shape the preferences of individuals engaging with the platform.
When asked about OpenAI’s rules, Rizal replied that Pemilu.AI does not participate in “the creation of political campaigns.” He described it as a communication tool to “support the decision-making process of candidates.”
NEXT STOP, INDIA
Next, Rizal intends to take the platform to India before the general election in May. “Because Indonesia is before the U.S. and India … this election is a warm up,” he told reporters.
He mentioned, “Pemilu.AI has collaborated closely with Microsoft, hosting the company on its Azure cloud service.” This partnership ensures that its operations comply with regulations. Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, declined to comment on customer engagements.
Rizal stated that he was testing a version of Pemilu.AI on Google’s AI, following an approach from its sales team. Google confirmed Pemilu.AI had completed preliminary work with its AI and became a cloud service client. Google stated that, aside from a ban on misinformation, there are no restrictions on using its Bard chatbot for political campaigns.
The Indonesian elections are pushing the boundaries of what some AI companies consider political campaigning.
OpenAI updated its rules on January 10, prohibiting the use of its technology for political campaigns or lobbying. This includes the creation of personalized or targeted campaign materials for specific demographics.
The same month, OpenAI banned the developer of a bot for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips, marking the first time it enforced such rules.
Advocates for the use of generative AI in Indonesia’s election assert that it provides legislative candidates with access to custom campaigning tools. These resources would typically be reserved for major contenders with larger budgets.
The continued use of AI is only natural, according to Razi Thalib. Raza leads the digital team for another presidential candidate, Anies Baswedan, a former Jakarta governor. “Perhaps the results of the election will lead to lessons learnt that will increase the adoption rate” in other countries, he said.
An advisor to Ganjar Pranowo, the candidate for the largest party in parliament, confirmed that AI was also used in his “creative campaign.”
Prabowo, with a 20-point lead in polls and supported by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, has leveraged generative AI to gain notable advantages in this election cycle. This has notably strengthened his support among Gen Z.
Millions of young voters were born after Prabowo’s dismissal from the military in the late 1990s, amid allegations of human rights violations he has consistently denied.
Prabowo’s campaign app enables supporters to actively participate in AI-generated scenes, like a jungle trek with the politician, shared on social media.
“Some say AI is not good for politics; however, AI gets people interested,” stated 25-year-old artist Adriansyah. He and his wife, Lusi Yulistia, were commissioned to create Midjourney-generated art of Prabowo and his running mate, the president’s 36-year-old son.
The voting age in Indonesia is 17, and a January poll by pollster Indikator Politik found that Prabowo received more than 60% of the Gen Z vote. He was also the most popular candidate among millennials, garnering 42% of their support.
In December, the campaign’s volunteer arm launched the PrabowoGibran.ai generative AI platform. It assists 15,000 “cyber troop” volunteers in tracking online sentiment and sharing AI-generated art on social media.
According to national coordinator Anthony Leong, the platform makes use of OpenAI technology as well as in-house software.
In Indonesia, political campaigns have enlisted creators to utilize text-to-art tools such as Midjourney, Leonardo AI, Microsoft Bing, and Pika Labs. Five artists, who spoke with Reuters, shared insights into this trend.
A Microsoft Bing spokesperson, using OpenAI’s DALL·E model, noted public figures can limit image creation associated with their names. This policy aims to address concerns about misuse or misrepresentation.
LeonardoAI and Pika Labs did not return requests for comment.
“It’s true that the application has limitations in terms of political content,” Lusi explained, referring to Midjourney. “In essence, I only use the application to change the character of the original photo into a certain theme.”
In January, Anies’ campaign launched a WhatsApp chatbot powered by OpenAI that answers questions about his policies.
Following a similar tool from the Prabowo camp, which incorrectly identified seven pillars of Indonesia’s state ideology at its December launch, it was removed shortly after. The tool, however, has not been reinstated.
According to advisor Andi Widjajanto, Ganjar’s campaign utilizes a dashboard powered by OpenAI technology. It predicts talking points and offers real-time social media alerts based on crawled online data about the candidate.
In January, a contentious example of AI use emerged when the Golkar party, supporting Prabowo, released “deepfake” videos. These videos featured the late strongman ruler Suharto urging voters to support its candidates. The clips containing campaign messages were identified as artificial intelligence-generated.
In a statement, The Advocacy Team on Elections Concerns (TAPP), a Jakarta-based nonprofit, highlighted the online availability of videos. They assert that these videos demonstrate AI’s potential for voter manipulation.
Dara Nasution, a top Golkar digital official, described the videos as “positive messages.”
Suharto’s image was generated through Midjourney and Leonardo AI, and his voice was crafted using ElevenLabs’ software and in-house technology, she explained. This comprehensive approach ensures a lifelike representation.
Leonardo AI and ElevenLabs did not respond to requests for comment.
Three election observers told Reuters that they had not seen AI used to spread misinformation or disinformation on a large scale during the contest.
“Disinformation has been limited compared to the 2019 election,” said Aribowo Sasmito, co-founder of the Mafindo fact-checking organization.
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