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One Big Topic Didn’t Come Up at the Debate
June 29, 2024

One Big Topic Didn’t Come Up at the Debate

Reading Time: 4 minutes

One Big Topic Didn’t Come Up at the Debate. Thank God., Thank God., Presidential debate: Why didn’t Trump or Biden talk about A.I.?

The first 2024 presidential debate unfolded Thursday night between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump and it was, as fellow MediaDownloader writer Jill Filipovic put it, the ‘most painful two hours of television in living memory.’

If you missed it, good for you. If you did watch it, you’d be forgiven for not remembering the topics that were actually debated vaguely shouted about. In between Biden’s excruciatingly painful and ‘nightmarishly confused‘ performance and Trump’s boorish firehose of lies and falsehoods, the debate also ostensibly featured a wide range of topics like abortion, the economy, climate change, foreign policy in Ukraine and Israel, election integrity, immigration, veterans, race, crime, health care, and even which of the two candidates has a better golf game.

However, there was one major issue that the debate failed to broach—despite the fact that it’s one of the most (if not the most) consequential developments since the last election cycle: artificial intelligence.

Since OpenAI’s release of ChatGPT in fall 2022, generative A.I. has completely sucked the oxygen out of the room when it comes to business and technology. Industries have been upended. U.S. policymakers have been scrambling to figure out how to regulate the emerging technology. Workers are more scared than ever that they could eventually be replaced by bots. That makes it all the more remarkable that during the U.S. presidential debate, neither of the two candidates nor the moderators chose to bring up arguably the most important topic of our time.

And what a goddamn relief.

Thursday night’s debacle proved that the two candidates can barely wrap their minds around the things that they’re literally saying in the moment, let alone complex and impactful technologies like A.I. that are actively reshaping the economy and labor today. Trump spent much of the night as he usually does in these debates: plying the audience with so many head-spinning lies that it becomes nearly impossible to keep track and fact-check. Biden meanwhile gave an unlimited amount of ammo to his critics who have long questioned his mental fitness and age, meandering and losing track so often that even his most ardent supporters are admitting that yes, actually, he did a really, really crappy job at the debate.

If A.I. did come up, which it likely will in the next debate (if it happens at all, that is), we would have no doubt heard a litany of falsehoods ranging from the misleading to the outright lies. You don’t need to look any further than what the candidates have already said about the topic to see that.

In classic Trumpian fashion, the former president has shown that he has … shall we say, conflicting views and experiences of A.I., at best. Trump called A.I. ‘maybe the most dangerous thing out there‘ in an interview with Fox Business in February.

‘It’s very dangerous,’ he added. ‘One day you don’t have any money in your account. It can be a very dangerous thing. And the other thing that I think is maybe the most dangerous thing out there of anything, because there’s no real solution. The AI, as they call it. It is so scary.’

However, this ‘danger’ didn’t stop him from using A.I. to his advantage. In an interview with influencer, WWE wrestler, and Japanese-forest hiker Logan Paul, Trump claimed to have used a chatbot to write a speech, ‘written so beautifully,’ that he later delivered. It impressed him so much that he even added that ‘one industry, I think, that will be gone are these wonderful speechwriters.’

While he later expressed his concern with deepfakes in the interview, he’s been benefiting from them—albeit indirectly. Dozens of A.I. deepfakes showing the former president with Black supporters made the rounds earlier this year, though they weren’t directly linked to his campaign. His former campaign manager Brad Parscale is also helping arm the Republican National Committee and the latest Trump campaign with an arsenal of generative A.I. tools.

Meanwhile, Biden issued an executive order late last year to introduce safeguards for A.I. The order attempts to strike a balance between policy to help ensure privacy and national security while also encouraging innovation. While much of the directive has yet to come to fruition, and it’s fairly vague on deliverables, most tech-ethics and A.I. experts agree that it’s a ‘good start‘ when it comes to regulating the emerging technology. However, that’s about as far as it goes for the president in terms of A.I.

In all, the fact that it didn’t come up on Thursday illustrates a perennial issue when it comes to emerging technologies and government—namely, that policymakers will always move at a glacial pace when it comes to reacting to the issues and problems that they create. We’ve seen this time and again with things like social media, climate change, and even now-archaic tech like television and radio. The rest of us suffer for it—especially as the harms of those issues unfold in our everyday lives.

It’s probably for the best that A.I. didn’t come up during Thursday night’s debate—but it should have. And it should have had at least one candidate on stage who can speak to the American people about the most consequential and potentially devastating technologies of our time.


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