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China could use AI deepfake technology to disrupt 2024 election, GOP senator warns

EXCLUSIVE: China’s expansive artificial intelligence (AI) operations could play a concerning role in the 2024 election cycle, Sen. Pete Ricketts warned on Thursday.

“There’s absolutely a possibility that they could do that for the 2024 election, and that’s what we have to be on guard [for],” Ricketts told Fox News Digital in an interview in his Senate office.

During a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing earlier this month, Ricketts referenced China and its use of AI technology to create “deepfakes,” which are fabricated videos and images that can look and sound like real people and events. A report released earlier this year by a U.S.-based research firm claimed a “pro-Chinese spam operation” was using AI deepfakes technology to create videos of fake news anchors reciting Beijing’s propaganda. Those videos were disseminated across social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the report said. Meanwhile, China has its own regulations limiting the reach of deepfakes within its borders.

Pete Ricketts wearing a suit and tie

Sen. Pete Ricketts told Fox News Digital that he was concerned about reports of pro-China groups’ use of AI deepfake technology. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Ricketts compared the effort to the Soviet Union’s vast propaganda network in the latter half of the 20th century. 

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“I think there’s a big parallel here between what the Soviet Union did back during the Cold War, where they outspent us like ten-to-one on this sort of propaganda, and what the CCP is doing right now where they’re spent outspending us ten-to-one, and now they’re trying to leverage that dollar advantage with the technology advantage of using AI,” he said.

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Ricketts revealed that he himself had been in contact with AI experts at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and other places “to come up with some strategies [on] what we can do.”

“One of the key things that we have to do, really, is education for our own people about how they have to look at media now and think critically about it,” the senator said. “Because there could be a good chance it’s completely made up, it’s completely false. Even if you see somebody, an image of somebody you think you know, it could be created through a computer program.”

Fake AI image of Ukraine's president

This illustration photo taken on January 30, 2023 shows a phone screen displaying a statement from the head of security policy at META with a fake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calling on his soldiers to lay down their weapons shown in the background, in Washington, DC. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

He suggested that the U.S. government could work with colleges and universities researching AI technology on a “template” for teaching people to be aware of deepfakes.

“One of the things that we can do, as the federal government, is think about, well, what are the things we want to do when we’re saying, ‘Okay, we need to teach people – think critically,’ can we come up with some ideas on what that means? Maybe create a template or something that we can share with universities that they can adapt,” Ricketts said.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping sitting at a session

China has ramped up its investments into AI in recent years. (Pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping) (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

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He was wary of the suggestion that the federal government could create its own AI office to educate people, citing a bloated bureaucracy, but called on his colleagues to stay “on topic” and learn as much as they can about the rapidly developing technology.

“I’m always very careful about creating more government bureaucracy, so I’m not sure we want to run and do that. There are probably places that we can already address this,” Ricketts said. “But I think part of it is just for my colleagues and for me to get educated on this, and what the capabilities are. And like I said, it’s moving very quickly, so we’ve got to stay on topic.”

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