NYC politician caught secretly using AI in Q&A invokes language barrier as defense

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A New York City councilwoman-elect has admitted to using artificial intelligence to communicate with voters and answer media inquiries.

Susan Zhuang, a Brooklyn Democrat who won her race to represent a district in the southern portion of the New York City borough, acknowledged her use of popular AI platforms such as ChatGPT after being confronted about the issue by the New York Post, according to a report from the outlet this week.

The acknowledgment came after the New York Post sent Zhuang an inquiry asking what “makes someone a New Yorker,” with the councilwoman-elect reportedly replying with a 101-word response that made the publication suspicious.

“New York City, the concrete jungle where dreams come true. It’s not just a place, it’s a state of mind. Being a New Yorker means having an unstoppable hustle, unbreakable resilience and unrivaled independence,” the response said.

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Susan Zhuang acknowledged her use of popular AI platforms such as ChatGPT after being confronted about the issue by the New York Post. (Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

Believing the answer sounded nothing like the Brooklyn Democrat, the New York Post fed the response through Copyleaks.com, an AI-detecting tool that claims to have 99% accuracy, with the test revealing that Zhuang’s response was generated by AI.

After initially blaming her staff for the use of the AI tool, Zhuang, who speaks fluent Mandarin, later texted a reporter to say that “as an immigrant and Brooklyn’s first Chinese-American Councilwoman, I, like many of my fellow immigrants, use AI as a tool to help foster deeper understanding as well as for personal growth, particularly when English is not my primary language.”

The revelation led to concerns from New York Democrat political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who told the New York Post such use of AI “could be the wave of the future.”

“If she can’t answer questions on her own, how can we expect her to represent the district? Is she going to use the internet and computer programs to write her bills, too?”

— Ying Tan, Republican who ran against Democrat Councilwoman-elect Susan Zhuang

“It is very troubling,” Sheinkopf said. “We’d be better off with robots in public office [because] at least we would know what we got.”

But Christopher Alexander, the chief analytics officer of Pioneer Development Group, said that such a development is not exactly surprising.

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“Perhaps the most ridiculous part of any concern over this story is if anyone actually believes that candidates routinely write statements like these anyways,” Alexander told Fox News Digital. “If a staffer writes this or an AI does, what is the difference? The councilwoman should have reviewed the statement and made sure it was clearly in her voice, but otherwise it is a distinction without a difference.”

Phil Siegel, the founder of the Center for Advanced Preparedness and Threat Response Simulation, expressed a similar sentiment, but noted such use of AI by a candidate or public official should be publicly disclosed.

ChatGPT app shown in menu of icons on phone screen

Phil Siegel, the founder of the Center for Advanced Preparedness and Threat Response Simulation, said that such use of AI by a candidate or public official should be publicly disclosed. (iStock)

“Of course we’ll see more people use AI but probably to generate first and last drafts,” Siegel told Fox News Digital. “But having no one review it is troubling because it sounds stilted, and these models still hallucinate.”

Nevertheless, Zhuang’s Republican opponent, Ying Tan, said she is “not surprised” to learn about Zhuang’s use of AI, arguing that it was likely many of the Democrat’s social media posts could have also been authored by the technology.

“If she can’t answer questions on her own, how can we expect her to represent the district?” Tan said, according to the New York Post. “Is she going to use the internet and computer programs to write her bills, too?”

Zhuang could not be reached for comment.

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Ziven Havens, the policy director at the Bull Moose Project, said that AI’s use in elections is likely to become increasingly controversial, pointing to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ use of an AI-generated attack ad against former President Donald Trump.

Downtown Brooklyn intersection shown in photo

A bike messenger waits for a traffic light to change in the downtown Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

“While we are approaching record lows of public trust in government, our leaders should be looking to be more transparent and accountable,” Havens told Fox News Digital. “Using ChatCPT or DALL-E to respond to constituent questions or create false images is only going to further erode trust. Requiring disclosures [of] using AI technology is a start, but it should be banned outright.”

But Jon Schweppe, the policy director of American Principles Project, said Americans may just have to get used to a new era in politics, arguing that politicians will continue to use time-saving measures such as AI.

“This will hardly be the first time a politician replies to a tough media question with an AI-generated response,” Scheweppe told Fox News Digital. “We should anticipate frequent AI plagiarism going forward, which will make detection an incredibly valuable tool.”

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Samuel Mangold-Lenett, a staff editor at The Federalist, expressed a similar sentiment, noting that AI is already being used in some Eastern European countries to handle “constituent services”-type tasks.

“This technology is still in its infancy but is evolving rapidly. It’s only a matter of time until we interface with it in virtually every aspect of our daily lives,” Mangold-Lenett told Fox News Digital. “Of course, we don’t want AI to be making decisions when it comes to government policy. We’re meant to be a government by the people and of the people, not machine.”

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