The 2024 presidential election is still a year away, but the GOP is already driving the race deeper into the gutter this morning with an ad responding to President Joe Biden’s announcement that he’ll seek reelection. The ad, which imagines a dystopia in which Biden is reelected, uses an unspecified image-generating AI like Midjourney or Stable Diffusion to visualize China invading Taiwan, massive waves of immigration at the United States’ border with Mexico, and the total collapse of civilization in San Francisco. The ad’s description on YouTube is: “An AI-generated look into the country's possible future if Joe Biden is re-elected in 2024.”
Since the advent of generative AI, experts have warned that the technology could eventually lead to the death of objective truth as convincing—but fake—generated images proliferate and become indistinguishable from reality. That the Republican party immediately reached for a tool that explicitly exists to generate fabrications does not inspire confidence in America’s two-party democracy, its culture, and generally its ability to navigate difficult times without always making the most cynical decision possible.
However, as shocking as the ad is at first sight, new AI technology is more stupid than it is scary. The Republican fantasy on display here is one conservatives have been painting long before AI tools came along. Conservative media and pundits have told far more nefarious lies about immigrants, and American cities, without the help of cutting edge technology. Large parts of the country are convinced that New York City and San Francisco are dystopian hellholes despite data proving otherwise. Just this month, Silicon Valley elites were discussing public hangings following the murder of a tech executive, only to discover later he was murdered by another tech executive.
The GOP AI ad might be imagining a future dystopia, but it’s one that its intended audience already believes we live in today. Americans don’t need AI generated images to imagine they’re being overrun by immigrants and that they’re cities have devolved into anarchy, just like they don’t need deepfakes to believe lies about Nancy Pelosi.
Like many political ads, it’s not about policy or material changes to people’s lives. It’s about a vision for America, one where you should fear your neighbor and the end times are nigh, and it's just the oldest trick in the book with a fresh coat of paint.