Alford: What role will AI play in Louisiana politics?
Right now, there seems to be more questions than answers about the evolving role of artificial intelligence in Louisiana politics and government relations.
For example, consultants are already implementing and utilizing a variety of AI-backed tech, but are clients ready to start paying for those services?
Also, when machine learning is used to produce copy, art or images for campaigns, who will own the rights to the artistic works?
Once AI is further integrated, will human talent still be needed on the scales we see today?
Maybe more importantly, how will political professionals work to ensure these new tools aren’t employed in truly harmful ways?
“Personally, I welcome all the ethical questions, conversations and resolutions that we need to make this tool a force for good,” says Mary-Patricia Wray of Top Drawer Strategies, a firm offering AI integration through a service called Capitol Compass.
“I’ve had my own goosebump moments when it comes to what AI is capable of,” Wray adds. “I recently asked AI to draft a legislative instrument for me with some very specific inputs and instructions. I teach legislative drafting at Tulane Law School and I was floored with how it picked up drafting conventions and other formatting.”
Political science professor Joshua Stockley, director of the Honors Program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, says the political discussion around AI at this hour involves “wrestling with rhetorical questions,” but this infancy probably won’t last much longer.
By the end of next year’s presidential election cycle, AI will have a recognizable niche.
“We’re all kind of waiting for someone to either win big with AI or get busted in a bad way using it,” Stockley says. “We haven’t yet seen a genuine cycle where the most advanced language models are being used. We’re in unknown territory.”
While much of the chatter and media coverage about AI has focused on the darker side of things—like photo and video manipulation—the vast majority of programs being unleashed on the ground lack that cloak-and-dagger element, especially in the arena of government relations.
“We implemented a new toolbox to track and predict legislative developments and potential impacts of policy change,” Wray says of her firm, referencing the recent regular session. “Machine learning algorithms, a branch of AI, proved instrumental in this aspect of the work we do for our clients. These algorithms can analyze vast quantities of data and uncover patterns impacting client revenue streams.”
Wray and other political professionals are working with a slew of up-and-coming companies that trade in innovation such as DemTEC, which has developed TalkTec, a generative audio platform that can produce personalized messages, among other functions, that can be used by policymakers or really anyone else.
According to Campaigns & Elections, Democrats may be ahead of the curve and have funded a tech incubator that has led to the creation of companies like Quiller and Chorus AI, which were developing their products long before the public release of tools like ChatGPT, Amazon Bedrock, Bard and Bing AI.
While all of this may sound expensive, Mike Nellis, one of the founders of Quiller, tells C&E that his company’s tech wasn’t designed for high-dollar campaigns to replace human talent.
“At the end of the day, I want a whole lot of local candidates to use this tool because they’re going to be able to do a whole lot more with a lot less,” Nellis says.
In fact, if you’re a consultant, there are some AI-powered apps available for purchase for well under $100 on your smartphone. But that doesn’t mean you should spend the money, trigger the download and run your clients’ business through the applications.
Brent Littlefield, president of D.C.-based Littlefield Consulting, says any new technology should be vetted by a legal team, but also investigated thoroughly to see how it would interplay with communications, fundraising and other basic campaign operations. In other words, don’t jump into the untested waters of AI without thoughtful planning.
“I think any campaign or creator would have to be very careful with the legal implications of using this technology,” Littlefield says.
On the other side of the political machine, elected officials are wondering what to do about AI as well. President Joe Biden has drafted an agreement with the CEOs of the country’s largest AI companies to govern how the tech will be developed and released. The agreement, however, is nonbinding.
On Capitol Hill, legislative leaders want a policy response on the same front, but lawmakers aren’t sure who or what to target.
“We’re all living in this immense gray area,” Stockley says, “but there is a discussion to be had about the proper role of artificial intelligence in politics and government.”
Until then, Wray says there are pragmatic AI tools ready for use right now that offer voice learning technology (replacing robocalls), data analysis (reducing polling costs) and message development (cost-effective testing and reports on media tone).
“This might be a little philosophical, but the problem with AI isn’t AI, it’s people,” Wray says. “Not just the ones who might want to use it for warfare, but the general populace who is more interested in confirmation bias than truth. To me, that’s a problem that AI can help solve, not one that it created to begin with.”