Insights & Analyses

Personalized politician chat bots predicted to be next big thing targeting voters

Rather than waiting with bated breath for U.S. President Donald Trump’s next tweet, imagine being able to interact with Trump himself — or at least a digital representation of his personality, in the form of a chat bot.

On the heels of America’s so-called “Facebook election,” in which targeted ads and false propaganda helped swing the election in favor of Trump, political analysts are looking to the next big thing in technology that could be used to win over voters, particularly among communities who have been marginalized

Trump digital advertising chief Gary Coby told Newsweek the answer could be personalized chat bots, able to not only target specific voters and address their concerns, but also emulate the personality of the candidate.

He predicted that messenger bots will become more common by the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and will allow campaigns to specifically target the types of voters they want to encourage to get to the polls. Using a chat bot knowledgeable about a candidate’s positions, as well as their demeanor, the virtual conversation could allow voters to ask questions hyper specific to their community, and receive targeted answers in return.

Given Trump’s stunning victory last November, there’s reason to put stock in Coby’s prediction. The Trump campaign successfully leveraged Facebook and big data to create a database of 220 million people dubbed “Project Alamo.”

With that data, the Trump campaign was placing tens of thousands of ad variants per day, which Coby said were aimed at increasing donations from small segments of voters. Coby compared the team’s unique election strategy with “high-frequency trading” on Wall Street.

The concept of a digital personality clone isn’t as far fetched as it may seem. New research being conducted at the MIT Media Lab is looking to create “swappable identities” for AI bots, based on data taken from a person’s digital identity, including emails, transcribed videos, and any other published statements.

Researchers believe swappable identities in chat bots could not only provide voters with a digital Trump’s opinion on a matter, but could also allow entrepreneurs to seek the advice of a successful businessman like Tesla founder Elon Musk.

Of course, while MIT’s research is focused on informational purposes, political campaigns are likely to use the technology to influence opinion and generate excitement among people it views as likely supporters of their candidate.

Chat bots are not new, but recent advances in machine learning have Silicon Valley executives banking on the technology becoming the next big thing in social media and information gathering, among many other uses. They see chat bots being commonly used for everything from being a personal assistant, like a more powerful Siri or Alexa, to something as advanced and nuanced as acting as a digital therapist.

Or pushing you to a polling station.