This year promises to be a whopper for elective government, with billions of people — or more than 40% of the world’s population — able to vote in an election.

But nearly five months into 2024, some government officials are quietly wondering why the looming risk of AI hasn’t, apparently, played out. Even as voters in Indonesia and Pakistan have gone to the polls, they are seeing little evidence of viral deepfakes skewing an electoral outcome, according to a recent article in Politico, which cited "national security officials, tech company executives and outside watchdog groups.” AI, they said, wasn’t having the "mass impact” that they expected.That is a painfully shortsighted view. The reason? AI may be disrupting elections right now and we just don’t know it.

The problem is that officials are looking for a Machiavellian version of the Balenciaga Pope. Remember the AI-generated images of Pope Francis in a puffer jacket that went viral last year? That’s what many now expect from generative AI tools — which can conjure human-like text, images and videos en masse, making it just as easy to spot as previous persuasion campaigns that supported Donald Trump from Macedonia or spread divisive political content on Twitter and Facebook from Russia. So-called astroturfing was easy to identify when an array of bots was saying the same thing thousands of times.