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[Election 2022] AI spokesman, avatars enter election campaigns

Presidential candidates show off their digital engagement with AI avatars

AI Yoon Suk-yeol, a digitally-created character speaks in a 1-minute video revealed at People Power Party election committee’s inauguration ceremony on Monday. The AI character said, “Hello. I am AI Yoon Suk-yeol. Are you surprised because we look alike?” (Screen captured from video)
AI Yoon Suk-yeol, a digitally-created character speaks in a 1-minute video revealed at People Power Party election committee’s inauguration ceremony on Monday. The AI character said, “Hello. I am AI Yoon Suk-yeol. Are you surprised because we look alike?” (Screen captured from video)

At the kickoff ceremony of an election committee for the main opposition party’s presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, a familiar face showed up to encourage support for the nominee, calling himself “AI Yoon Suk-yeol.”

“Hello. I am AI Yoon Suk-yeol. Are you surprised because we look alike?” the digitally-created character resembling the People Power Party’s presidential candidate said in a video clip revealed at the ceremony on Monday.

“AI Yoon Suk-yeol is a first in the political arena, and it symbolizes Korea’s new future that Yoon will create (when he is elected president),” it added.

While not perfect, presidential candidates running for the March election are bringing in advanced technologies to show off their digital engagement to appeal to voters.

The AI Yoon Suk-yeol was slightly awkward when making some gestures, but the character perfectly recreated the voice of the candidate.

The digitalized Yoon also lacked some of the distinct habits of the nominee, who has been criticized for shaking his head sideways too often and for opening his legs too wide in public events.

The People Power Party election committee is also ramping up efforts in digital canvassing, announcing that it will utilize Namuwiki, a local online encyclopedia, to collect public opinions on election pledges.

Aidy, the AI spokesman representing Kim Dong-yeon, a former Finance Minister running in the March presidential election, introduces himself on a video on Tuesday. (Screen captured from video)
Aidy, the AI spokesman representing Kim Dong-yeon, a former Finance Minister running in the March presidential election, introduces himself on a video on Tuesday. (Screen captured from video)

On Tuesday, Kim Dong-yeon, a former Finance Minister who threw his hat in the ring for the presidency in August, introduced an artificial intelligence spokesperson named Aidy as the first hired employee of his election committee.

He also presented an avatar character named Windy, who is his second hired employee.

“I want to be chosen by the people with a new way of campaigning that fits the new era, instead of the usual time-consuming activities that wastes taxpayer money,” Kim said in the announcement, adding that the two major political parties receive over 100 billion won ($85 million) as a state subsidy for election campaigning.

“Korean politics has been a burden to the people for a long time, costing an astronomical amount of money,” Kim said. “Adopting an AI spokesman is an attempt to cut down on the cost of campaigning.”

The AI spokesperson appeared in a short video to introduce himself.

“Hello, I am Kim Dong-yeon’s spokesman Aidy. I will be working hard to support Kim’s philosophy and for a better world,” Aidy said.

Taking on the usual task of a spokesperson, Aidy also criticized the ruling and main opposition parties for hiring campaign employees only for show and that lack genuineness.

“Kim Dong-yeon (on the other hand) is actually recruiting me and Windy as his first and second campaign employees in his attempt to introduce the right figures, in the era of the fourth industrial revolution and digitalization,” the AI spokesman added.

Kim, who served the ministerial position for the incumbent Moon Jae-in Administration, formed a new party dubbed “New Wave” in October.

According to Kim, his election camp plans to utilize Aidy and Windy to better approach voters online. Aidy will be delivering various messages from the candidate together with spokeswoman Song Moon-hee.

Windy, the avatar, would be working as “the other half” of the candidate, presenting his policies and appearing in places on behalf of Kim, he added.

Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, operated an election camp headquarters inside a metaverse to communicate with the users during the party’s primary. There, he presented an AI-based chat bot, which automatically gave answers to questions.

Other candidates, including Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party and Sim Sang-jung of the progressive Justice Party, are also preparing digitalized electioneering activities, party officials said.

Amid the efforts to highlight that the candidates are “up-to-date,” there are some concerns voices that these AI and deepfake technologies may be abused to manipulate campaign efforts.

“Thinking about the political ethics, I think the People Power Party has gone too far,” Ko Sam-seog, former standing member at the Korea Communications Commission said on his Facebook on Tuesday. He served his post at the communications commission at the recommendation of the ruling Democratic Party.

“It is obvious why PPP adopted Yoon Suk-yeol’s avatar. They wanted a makeover of the candidate’s bad image, with his head-shaking, wide-legged standing and poor speaking ability,” Ko said.

“Whether it is with good intentions or bad, deep fake technology should be used sparingly, and very carefully.”

In 2017, a video showing former US president Barack Obama appearing to curse and calling then-president Donald Trump names went viral in the United States. The video turned out to be fake, created with the deepfake technology. 

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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