With Indonesia’s presidential election just around the corner, the innovative use of generative AI technology is transforming the landscape of political campaigning in the world’s third-largest democracy. From creating AI-generated avatars to developing sophisticated chatbots, candidates are leveraging cutting-edge tools to engage voters in novel ways, setting a precedent for future elections worldwide.

In Jakarta, 19-year-old shopkeeper Fika Juliana Putri plans to cast her vote for former special forces commander Gen. Prabowo Subianto, drawn to his cuddly persona portrayed through a doe-eyed cartoon avatar generated by AI. This AI-generated image has become a ubiquitous symbol of Prabowo’s campaign, capturing the attention of Indonesia’s youthful electorate, with approximately half of the country’s 205 million voters under the age of 40.

Prabowo’s electoral rebranding, powered by generative AI technology from U.S. firm Midjourney Inc, has propelled him to the forefront of the campaign. Embracing the concept of “gemoy,” Indonesian slang for cute and cuddly, Prabowo’s AI avatar charms Gen Z voters on social media platforms like TikTok, garnering widespread popularity and engagement.

The adoption of generative AI tools extends beyond Prabowo’s campaign, with hundreds of candidates utilising similar technologies to craft campaign art, monitor social media sentiment, and target voters effectively. However, this innovative approach has raised questions about compliance with guidelines issued by providers like Midjourney and OpenAI, the market leader in generative AI technology.

Despite concerns, supporters argue that generative AI offers smaller candidates access to custom campaigning tools that were once reserved for major contenders with larger budgets. For instance, Pemilu.AI, powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 and 3.5 software, enables legislative candidates to devise hyper-local campaign strategies tailored to their constituencies, revolutionising traditional campaigning methods.

As Indonesia’s election serves as a testing ground for AI-driven political campaigning, the implications extend beyond the Southeast Asian nation. With countries like the United States and India heading to the polls in the near future, the ethical use of AI in politics is under scrutiny, prompting AI companies like OpenAI to refine their policies and ensure transparency.

While the widespread adoption of AI technology in Indonesia’s election signifies a paradigm shift in political campaigning, concerns about misinformation and voter manipulation persist. As candidates embrace AI-generated content to engage voters, the challenge lies in striking a balance between innovation and ethical conduct to uphold the integrity of democratic processes.