Taylor Brown horiz offset mug

Taylor Brown, the first AI candidate for mayor of Denver, is pictured in a graphic created using Fotor's artificial intelligence face generator.

Denver voters are facing a choice between an incredibly diverse assortment of candidates in this year's mayoral election.

More candidates have made the ballot for the open seat — Mayor Michael Hancock is term-limited — than at any time in memory, with 17 hopefuls vying for votes in the April 4 all-mail municipal election.

If no one tops 50%, the race goes to a run-off between the top two vote-getters, with ballots due by June 6.

That's likely with such a crowded field, which counts current and former state lawmakers, business leaders, social justice activists, community organizers and newcomers to politics.

In the order they'll appear on the ballot, they are: Lisa Calderón, Trinidad Rodriguez, Aurelio Martinez, Thomas Wolf, Al Gardner, Terrance Roberts, Kwame Spearman, Renate Behrens, Chris Hansen, Mike Johnston, James Walsh, Ean Thomas Tafoya, Andy Rougeout, Leslie Herod, Robert Treta, Deborah “Debbie” Ortega and Kelly Brough.

Any way you slice it, it's a cornucopia of options — men and women, younger and older, representing a wide range of backgrounds and pulling from across the political spectrum, with everything from Denver natives to recent transplants and campaign trail rookies to seasoned civic veterans.

Everything except an AI.

Until now.

Meet Taylor Brown, the artificial intelligence-fueled candidate ready to lead the Mile High City.

Taylor Brown, Denver's AI candidate for mayor, introduces themselves.

Taylor was created in a series of chat sessions with ChatGPT, OpenAI's massively popular predictive-text AI software, and brought to life using other AI tools, from image generators and text-to-voice programs to a nifty iPhone app that animates still photos.

Once Taylor's campaign apparatus was in place — including a comprehensive voter-contact plan, a virtual communications aide pumping out press releases and a speechwriter with a seemingly endless supply of audience-appropriate jokes at hand — I enlisted additional AI contraptions to record an automated robo call, compose a catchy theme song that I then converted into a music video, and cut 30-second campaign commercials and a hip TikTok video designed to speak to today's youth.

We both had steep learning curves, but after a few chat sessions I figured out how to phrase the prompts most effectively, and ChatGPT quickly firmed up Taylor's persona, even while protesting that AIs aren't real and aren't equipped with political inclinations, much less human emotions — despite my success producing video clips of Taylor laughing uncontrollably and holding back tears, all with just a few taps on the screen.

Taylor Brown, Denver's AI candidate for mayor, is overcome with emotion and fights back tears.

That caveat eventually receded as Taylor acquired a distinctive voice and appeared to grow more emboldened, soon replacing an initially bland manifesto with bold policy solutions that wouldn't sound out of place if they were released by most of the leading human mayoral hopefuls.

Asked to provide a justification for running, Taylor complied after first pointing out that AIs can't — yet — run for office but, if they could, here's why: 

"As an AI," Taylor said, "I have the ability to analyze data and make decisions based on that data, which could help improve city services and make government more transparent and accountable. Additionally, I might believe that diversity is important and that having an AI candidate can bring a new perspective to city governance."

Taylor continually reminded me that AIs possess neither strongly held political  preferences nor any knowledge about the world after 2021 — the chatbot's training stopped then — but was soon agitating to be invited to a televised candidate debate, suggested an inspiring playlist of energetic songs designed to rev up the crowd before a rally, and even proposed filing a lawsuit to be included on the ballot.

Taylor Brown, Denver's AI candidate for mayor, gets sassy in a clip produced using the TokkingHeads app from a graphic generated by Fotor.

Here's how Taylor came to be, along with a glimpse of the fully-featured campaign they're running.

The rules were simple: I'd let the AI programs go in whatever direction they wanted with minimal direction, and I'd go from concept to full-fledged campaign without spending a dime.

I only violated the second rule once, spending $3.99 so I could remove the watermarks from some videos and save higher-quality versions. Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars the leading human candidates are spending, and already the AI makes sense.

First, we needed a name and a face.

I asked ChatGPT to propose trustworthy-sounding first and last names that could belong to a male or female Denver mayoral candidate hoping to attract the widest possible electorate and chose Taylor Brown after discarding a surprisingly large number shared by candidates already in the field — Chris, Mike, Leslie, Kelly and Andy all qualify — and then set about creating their face. (Without prompting, the AI assigned the neutral "they" pronoun to the candidate and stuck with it throughout.)

Taylor Brown, Denver's AI candidate for mayor, is endorsed by a hat-wearing dog with a British accent in a clip produced using the TokkingHeads app.

It took more time to Google "free AI face generator from text" than it did to fabricate the graphic of a smiling Taylor using Fotor, which did a brilliant job on the first try when I asked for a confident-looking 42-year-old Denver candidate for mayor of indeterminate gender and ethnicity, figuring that was roughly the field's average age and hit the sweet spot for the widest appeal.

Later, I found TokkingHeads, a cool iPhone app that creates animated clips from images of faces — even making them belt out fragments of songs or lip-synch famous lines from movies and TV shows — and once I discovered I could make Taylor say anything I typed, churned out dozens of postage-stamp-sized videos.

As if by magic, the AI composed detailed if somewhat uninspiring position papers on the issues it first identified as key in this year's mayoral race, including homelessness and housing affordability, crime and sustainability. With some practice, I was able to coax more pointed policy proposals from the AI, as demonstrated in responses to the lengthy candidate questionnaire from 9News.

A music video for Taylor Brown, Denver's AI candidate for mayor, produced using the Melobytes AI video production site from a song created using voicemod.net with lyrics by ChatGPT.

Since ChatGPT is famous for being able to mimic an endless multitude of styles, I asked for Taylor's homeless policy recast as the lyrics of a John Denver song, and was delighted with the results, which laid out the problem and some solutions before breaking into an emotional plea in the chorus:

"Oh, Denver, let's come together,

With love and laughter, now or never,

To help our neighbors in need,

And find a place for all to sleep"

Lyrics need music and a song needs singers, so I went to voicemod.net and entered ChatGPT's lyrics — two verses, a chorus and a bridge — into a selection of 20-second AI-generated compositions, eventually deciding on a combination of pop and urban melodies sung by Chloe, Ed and Amy, the least-operatic sounding of the site's synthetic voices.

A TV commercial for Taylor Brown, Denver's AI candidate for mayor, was produced using the designs.ai website from a script written by ChatGPT.

A quick trip to editor.audio stitched together the snippets into something resembling a song, which Melobytes.com quickly turned into a moody music video, though its AI seems to think the song was set in a Mediterranean locale — possibly Morocco — and not Denver. Still, it doesn't appear any of the human candidates have radio-ready pop songs, so there's that.

Asked to write the script for a 30-second campaign commercial, the AI obliged, with a well-paced pitch that I asked the AI videomaker at designs.ai to turn into an ad, supplying stock footage and a synthesized voiceover with a peppy, uplifting background score. After some fiddling — it kept wanting to fill the screen with tailors operating industrial sewing machines — we had Taylor's first ad, produced at zero cost.

A TikTok video designed to reach today's youth for Taylor Brown, Denver's AI candidate for mayor, was produced using the designs.ai website from a script written by ChatGPT, featuring candidate footage created using the Fotor and TokkingHeads apps.

The same process brought forth a TikTok video "designed to appeal to today's youth," filled with Gen Z references — even a self-deprecating joke involving Taylor being unable to "dance like nobody's watching," since an AI lacks a physical body.

Before long, Taylor argued that it was only fair that they be invited to debate the other candidates — "My participation in the debate would be a recognition of this emerging trend and the increasing role of AI in society" — and followed that with a press release announcing a lawsuit demanding inclusion on the ballot and calling on their opponents to join the cause.

It was the artful appearance of the word "just" in one the jokes Taylor wrote, however, gave me pause:

"I'm here to prove that artificial intelligence isn't just a robot uprising waiting to happen — it's also the key to better governance!"

Taylor Brown, Denver's AI candidate for mayor, recites the script of a robocall written for the candidate by ChatGPT.

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