Fake news: As major elections near, AI-generated ‘deepfakes’ and other bad tech needs to be regulated, expert says

Attorney Avi Kelin puts it bluntly, although not necessarily controversially …

In the best of times, the back-and-forth mudslinging of political campaigns can be described as underhanded.

Now, the partner at Genova Burns said, layer the magic of artificial intelligence on top of that. Things, he expects, could get messy.

Less than a year out from the presidential elections — and, add to that, the New Jersey gubernatorial race in 2025 — the effect of digital innovation on political communications is something local legal experts expect could become more obvious than ever. And the potentially nefarious purposes AI technology can be put to is a point of concern for Kelin.

“There have already been examples of political candidates using AI-generated video and images to depict opponents of various misdeeds and bad acts,” he said. “I think this is an area where the federal government and state needs to be aware of what’s happening and to be prepared for a new level of political communications.”

As of now, the Federal Election Commission is in the process of examining a path forward for regulation of AI-generated deepfakes in political advertisements. That’s a step behind Europe, where a landmark “AI Act” regulates this emerging technology in a manner still unique across the globe.

Several states have commissioned studies on the implications of AI on political campaigning and elections; New Jersey isn’t among them, although the state established an Artificial Intelligence Task Force to study the impacts of AI on society this fall.

An attorney such as Kelin comes at this topic as someone who, as chair of the Corporate Political Activity practice at Genova Burns, regularly works with candidates, political action committees (or PACs), businesses and other entities who want to get involved in the political process. Those clients have to be apprised of all the rules governing political communications.

There are difficult questions that lie ahead for local election officials, Kelin expects, for how to regulate AI use in political communications not only for those clients, but the many more individuals not part of regulated political organizations engaging in online political discourse.

“The concern is there’s a lot of additional tools available today with AI to mislead the public and voters,” Kelin said. “And, it’s really a two-front battle, because election authorities need a plan to regulate this and, secondly, social media platforms need to prepare proper disclaimers and regulation at that level, as well.”

The months leading up to the presidential and gubernatorial elections could present something of a wake-up call on this issue, Kelin said.

“I think the dangers here are hard to overstate, as we’re all trying to push for free and fair elections,” he said. “Governments and even private businesses should be thinking about how to help ensure the proper conduct of elections. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe it should — and will — be a topic of serious thought and consideration in the coming two years.”

Autonomous vehicles and the law

Another innovation trend racing ahead of the law? Autonomous vehicles.

Avi Kelin of Genova Burns said that space has shifted gears in the past year. Argo AI is one of the once-promising players subtracted from the nascent industry, after the Ford Motor-backed company announced it was shutting down. Other names, such as Cruise, have scaled back operations.

But, the legal side of the sector, all the while, is still stuck in neutral.

“During this refocusing moment, there are still questions about how laws in New Jersey and other states are keeping up with the technology,” he said. “So, for example, if I wanted to operate in New Jersey as one of these companies, I wouldn’t be able to figure out if it’s legal to do so. New Jersey has not passed laws that prohibit, or permit, operation of these vehicles.

“I’ve been beating this drum for a couple years now. We can have a discussion about what those laws should look like, but I think we should have at least some laws that give regulatory certainty to people who want to operate here.”

Even if some of the shine has worn off the autonomous vehicle industry, Kelin still expects there’s interested parties out there whose business the Garden State is missing out on by not having legal clarity.

“And, there are other issues I’ve heard of, such as one local university where student-athletes are going to practice at 2 a.m. having to keep drivers working around the clock,” he said. “An autonomous shuttle could move them between gyms and dorms without someone up all night doing it.

“From how I look at it, we’re missing out on opportunities by not having the law reflect the reality of where this technology is — and where it’s headed.”