South Korean candidate uses a deepfake version of himself in virtual search for votes

A South Korean candidate created the Yoon AI to recreate himself as a young man and build empathy with new voters in the country.


In an office in Seoul, dozens of young, hip workers use ” deepfake ” technology to try to achieve the nearly impossible: make a traditional middle-aged politician look like a “cool” presidential candidate.

Armed with hours of specially recorded footage of opposition People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol , the team created a digital avatar and let ” IA Yoon ” run loose in the March 9 election campaign.

Artificial intelligence (AI ) technology has been used before in election campaigns, from a deepfake video of Barack Obama insulting Donald Trump to businessman Andrew Yang’s failed campaign for mayor of New York.

But the creators of AI Yoon consider it to be the world’s first officially ” deepfake ” candidate, a concept gaining traction in South Korea, which has one of the world’s fastest internet networks.

The avatar looks almost identical to the real South Korean candidate, but uses popular language and expressions to appeal to young voters who are online.

IA Yoon was very successful, attracting millions of views since it hit the streets on January 1.

Tens of thousands of people have asked questions, but not about typically political issues.

“President Moon Jae-in and (rival presidential candidate) Lee Jae-myung are drowning, who would you save?” one user asked IA Yoon .

“I wish you both good luck,” replied the avatar.


At first glance, AI Yoon might seem like a real candidate, a testament to how far AI-generated videos, known as deepfakes , have come .

The real Yoon recorded over 3,000 phrases, in 20 hours of audio and video, providing enough data for the local deepfake company to create the avatar.

“Words that are usually spoken by Yoon are better reflected in AI Yoon ,” said Baik Kyeong-hoon, director of the AI Yoon team .

What the avatar says is written by their campaign team, not the candidate.

“We try to create humorous and satirical responses,” Baik said.

The effort paid off. IA Yoon’s pronouncements have made headlines in the Korean press, with seven million people visiting the “Wiki Yoon” site to query the avatar.

“If we had produced only politically correct answers, we would not have had this reaction,” Baik said.

Responding to queries, IA Yoon jokingly refers to President Moon and his rival Lee as “Moon Ding Dong” and “Lee Ding Dong,” and veiledly criticizes the ruler’s conciliatory policy toward Pyongyang.

North and South Korea remain technically at war, and Moon has met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un four times, something Yoon considers too soft.

The avatar has also used humor to try to deflect attention from Yoon’s past scandals, saying that a construction company gave him fruit when he was the attorney general.

“I am not committed to persimmon and melons. I am only committed to the people,” IA Yoon said, though his campaign later admitted that he did accept some gifts.

Ko Sam-seog, from opposition candidate Lee’s campaign team, accuses the cybercandidate of “degrading political decorum.”

But the sarcasm works: Though polls for the March 9 election show the candidates neck-and-neck, Yoon has taken the lead over Lee Jae-myung among voters in their 20s.

Future of AI

Baik and his two teammates, who are in their twenties and thirties, are among the youngest members of Yoon’s campaign team.

They formulate IA Yoon ‘s responses in quick sessions that can be over in 30 minutes, in contrast to the carefully crafted rhetoric of political debates.

South Korea’s election monitor allows AI candidates to campaign on the condition that they clearly identify themselves as deepfake technology and do not spread false information.

But the technology has been singled out as dangerous. The deepfake video of Obama insulting Trump was produced by award-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele to alert viewers to the need to be wary of what they find on the internet.

But Baik thinks AI is the future of election campaigns.

“It’s very easy to create a lot of content with deepfake technology,” he said.

“It is inevitable that this will be used more and more,” he said. (AFP)