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Three-armed person mistakenly exposes AI-generated images in Toronto mayoral platform

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A Toronto mayoral candidate’s use of AI-generated images was exposed when a photograph of a person with three arms appeared in their campaign platform.

Former newspaper columnist Anthony Furey released a 42-page platform on Monday paired with images that appeared to depict elements of Toronto – a police officer in a transit corridor and a streetcar trolleying along Queen Street, for example.

An image in Anthony Furey's Toronto mayoral campaign platform depicts a woman with three arms (Credit: Furey platform). But then, a person with three arms unravels the visual narrative.

“It wasn’t intentional,” Furey’s senior media advisor told CTV News Toronto, confirming the campaign used AI-generated images.

But Vass Bednar, executive director of McMaster University’s master of public policy program, said the platform does not transparently communicate or disclose the fact that the images are AI-generated, allowing voters to believe they are real.

“Instead of crediting an artist or supporting human talent, this candidate has chosen [AI],” Bednar said. “I think that gets to the crux of what is frustrating and disappointing about synthetic media.”

She lists copyright, intellectual property and bias as additional ethical concerns at play.

“What are his search terms? What is the significance of intentionally generating an image of a Black police officer? What are the demographics that seem to be represented with his underhoused or low income population?”

A police officer in Anthony Furey's Toronto mayoral campaign platform (Credit: Furey platform). To create an AI-generated image, a user types in a prompt that outlines the focal lens they want to capture. The outcome, derived from massive datasets of real images, is a state of “hyper reality,” Paolo Granata, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Toronto, explained.

“It’s a copy without an original,” Granata said. He scanned the “About Anthony Furey” section of his mayoral website with GPTZero to detect if his words were also automated.

The result: “Your text is likely to be written entirely by AI.”

AI-generated media can be easily used to help craft narratives that policitians are trying to convey, the professor explained. “Essentially, now AI is a tool to represent visually some kind of fears, some kind of narrative,” Granata said, pointing to two specific images.

Anthony Furey's website bio input into GPTZero, a program that detects AI-generated words. The second image in Furey’s platform is of a sidewalk full of people wrapped in blankets surrounded by belongings, and paired with a pitch to phase out drug injection sites in Toronto. The third image is of more than two dozen tents pitched in a park nearby high-rise office buildings, alongside his action plan to “reclaim Toronto parks” by removing “drug and violence-ridden tent encampments, step up police.”

People appear to sit on a street in Anthony Furey's mayoral campaign platform (Credit: Furey platform). Safe injection sites and encampments are present in real images of Toronto, but AI presents an opportunity to tweak elements – increasing the number of tents and people living on the streets – to appear and communicate the urgency of Furey’s pitch to “make Toronto safe again,” as his platform states.

Tents in a park are seen in Anthony Furey's Toronto mayoral campaign platform (Credit: Furey platform). “When a politician is able to set the context … everything will make sense, people will believe the context because you set the framing,” Granata said.

“I think what we are seeing now in this political campaign in Toronto, we are witnessing the beginning of a massive phenomenon that will affect political campaigns in the future.” 

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