The UK politician accused of being AI is actually a real person

2024-07-09 16:45

Us and World

Illustration of a robot brain.
Image: The Verge

Mark Matlock, a political candidate for the right-wing Reform UK party, clarified in The Independent that he is a real person, not an AI bot, as some suspected.

Perhaps it was the glossy, hyper-smooth skin in a campaign image or the fact that Matlock had apparently missed events like the election count — but earlier this week, a thread on X questioned whether Matlock existed at all. “We might be on the verge of a HUGE SCANDAL,” the post read.

An AI-generated political candidate isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility: during this election, an executive at an AI company used an AI persona to run for Parliament in the UK. He lost, obviously, getting just 179 votes.

Matlock, however, is a human candidate who apparently was very ill during the election.

“I got pneumonia three days before election night I was exercising taking vitamins so I could attend but it was just not viable. On election night I couldn’t even stand,” he told The Independent. Matlock also provided the outlet with the original photo that drew attention, saying the background was removed and the color of his tie was changed. The photo does have that rubbery, uncanny look to it that’s come to be associated with AI, though —particularly Matlock’s hair and skin. This seems like a good lesson for all elected officials: don’t edit your pictures in a way that looks like a Midjourney result for the prompt “youthful, nonthreatening-looking politician.”

The 2024 elections in the US and abroad are already feeling the effects of the proliferation of AI tools, though, for now, we still haven’t seen an AI bot replace a human politician. (To be fair, some people would probably prefer that.) Convincingly real deepfakes of politicians are easier than ever to make, with President Joe Biden’s voice being cloned to discourage people from voting, in one notable incident. There’s also the question of how to handle political ads created using AI tools — Google said earlier this month it will automatically create disclosures for political ads that have been labeled as AI-generated by the advertiser.

As The Guardian points out, some Reform UK candidates offered barely any details about themselves online, likely adding to the speculation about Matlock. So if you’re planning to run for elected office anytime soon, be warned: show up to events, engage with constituents, and keep a public profile. And, of course, lay off the photo editing.