May 11, 2023

I'm off to the East Coast for a few days. Wish me luck on the time change. I don't like West Coast mornings and y'all's mornings come even earlier. Today's Login is 1,242 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Democracy isn't ready for its AI test

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

AI-generated content is emerging as a disruptive political force just as nations around the world are gearing up for a rare convergence of election cycles in 2024, Axios' Ryan Heath reports.

Why it matters: Around 1 billion voters will head to polls in 2024 across the U.S., India, the EU, the U.K. and Indonesia, plus Russia — but neither AI companies nor governments have put matching election protections in place.

State of play: Election authorities, which are often woefully underfunded, must lean on existing rules to cope with the AI deluge.

  • AI startups tend to have have few or no election policies.
  • After initially banning political uses of ChatGPT, OpenAI is now focused on banning "high volumes of campaign materials" and "materials personalized to or targeted at specific demographics."

How it works: AI could upend 2024 elections via...

  • Fundraising scams written and coded more easily via generative AI.
  • A microtargeting tsunami, since AI lowers the costs of creating content for specific audiences — including delivering undecided or unmotivated voters "the exact message that will help them reach their final decisions," according to Darrell West, senior fellow at Brooking Institution's Center for Technology Innovation.
  • Incendiary emotional fuel. Generative AI can create realist-looking images designed to inflame, such as false representations of a candidate or communities that are targets of a party's ire.

Social media platforms, meanwhile, are cutting back on their election integrity efforts.

Between the lines: Newer platforms have little experience of big elections, let alone six in one year.

Of note: Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in a speech Tuesday that the State Department has developed an AI-enabled content aggregator "to collect verifiable Russian disinformation and then to share that with partners around the world."

What they're saying: Katie Harbath, who led Facebook's election efforts from 2013 to 2019, and is now a consultant, told Axios "the 2024 election is going to be exponentially more challenging than it was in 2020 and 2016."

  • Allie Funk, tech research director at Freedom House, told Axios that generative AI is kicking off an era of "automated disinformation" and "will lower the barrier of entry for shady companies" selling election services.

On the government side, efforts to grapple with AI are just beginning.

2. AI makes its mark throughout Google's I/O

Google CEO Sundar Pichai, speaking about AI at Google I/O 2023. Photo: Google

At its I/O developer conference Wednesday, Google was all in on AI.

Driving the news: The company unveiled PaLM 2, an updated version of its large language model, that it says does better at math and logic and will use the new model to power more than two dozen new products and features.

  • PaLM 2 comes in a variety of sizes, the smallest of which is capable of running natively on a smartphone.

Other AI announcements included...

Search: Google, which had already announced some plans to add generative AI into search results, showed demos Wednesday that integrated videos, pictures and web links into chat-style results.

  • Importantly for Google's business, it also plans to incorporate ads into generative AI results, though it says it is still experimenting with what that will look like.
  • Google is making the generative AI search results available as part of its experimental "labs" program, with a waitlist opening today for those in the U.S.

Bard: In addition to gaining the power of PaLM 2, Google's chatbot will start returning images and videos as part of its answers in the next few weeks and, in the coming months, will also be able to use an image as part of a prompt.

  • Google will also incorporate Adobe's Firefly technology to generate AI images from a text prompt.
  • As Microsoft has done with Bing Chat, Google is also ditching the waitlist.

Hardware: In addition to all the AI news, Google debuted the $499 Pixel 7a, a $499 Pixel Tablet as well as $1,799 Pixel Fold, which features a full-screen front display and triple-rear camera when closed, and unfolds to reveal a 7.6-inch display.

Between the lines: There were frequent mentions of Google's phrase of the moment — being both "bold and responsible" — but far fewer specifics on just how it will strike that balance.

  • One measure the company did lay out: a plan to put labels on all AI-generated images.

Go deeper: Google debuts latest AI model, updated chatbot, Pixel devices

3. Starline: A glimpse of video conferencing's future

A new prototype of Google's Project Starline 3D video conferencing system. Image: Google

The Google product I was most keen to try out at this year's I/O conference was Project Starline, an advanced video conferencing system that Google first showed off at I/O 2021.

What's new: It's still a work in progress, but Google has slimmed down the custom hardware, which had taken up an entire room, to the size of a large TV.

How it works: Starline uses a combination of technologies to create the appearance that someone you are chatting with is right next to you, life-sized and fully three-dimensional.

  • Among the technologies that make that possible are sensors that track eyes and ears to serve up stereoscopic video on a flat screen as well as spatial audio.
  • Google has managed to replace what had been a collection of special cameras and infrared light emitters with a combination of standard cameras and — you guessed it — AI.

My take: Starline is more compelling than any of the hologram systems I have tried.

  • Its power isn't measured in pixels or frame rates, but rather in the way it delivers intimacy and humanity, qualities one just doesn't ascribe to Zoom calls no matter how good the quality.

My demo consisted of a short conversation with a Google employee chatting from another Starline booth a few yards away.

  • It was compelling throughout, but turned jaw-dropping when he reached forward with a juicy red apple that looked so realistic I was sure I could reach out and grab it. (I could not.)

Yes, but: Starline is still so costly that the company won't even offer up an estimate on pricing. Its design also makes it suitable for one-on-one meetings but not group conferencing.

Go deeper: Google has posted a YouTube video of the new Starline hardware in action — but 2D video can't capture its impact.

4. Take note

Trading Places

  • Calendly has hired former Salesforce executive Stephen Hsu as chief product officer.

ICYMI

  • Twitter launched its encrypted direct messaging feature, but only for messages between two verified users. (The Verge)
  • Microsoft is freezing pay for all full-time employees this year, citing macroeconomic challenges. (Bloomberg)

After you Login

This only-in-San-Francisco-story defies a smart brevity explanation. I'll just say: Enjoy.

Thanks to Scott Rosenberg and Peter Allen Clark for editing and Bryan McBournie for copy editing this newsletter.