NYC mayor uses deep fakes of his voice to robocall residents

October 23, 2023

Politicians are usually the unauthorized subjects of deepfakes, but NYC Mayor Eric Adams is using this AI-powered technology to reach the residents of his city.

In an effort to reach a wider audience, Adams has used AI to create audio of himself speaking in languages ranging from Yiddish to Mandarin. The audio is then used to make automated robocalls to the city’s residents to inform them of events like job fairs and concerts.

The practicality of the move is obvious, but it raises some ethical issues too.

“People stop me on the street all the time and say, ‘I didn’t know you speak Mandarin, you know?’ The robocalls that we’re using, we’re using different languages to speak directly to the diversity of New Yorkers.” said Adams.

The issue is that Adams doesn’t speak those languages and the robocalls don’t inform the recipient that the voice they’re hearing was AI-generated. Is Adams misleading his electorate or being resourceful and efficient?

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn isn’t a fan of the mayor’s use of AI.

“This is deeply unethical, especially on the taxpayer’s dime. Using AI to convince New Yorkers that he speaks languages that he doesn’t is deeply Orwellian. Yes, we need announcements in all of New Yorkers’ native languages, but the deep fakes are just a creepy vanity project,” said Cahn.

Is it a little creepy? The city uploaded one of the Spanish robocalls to YouTube, so you be the judge.

Adams feels the ends justify the means but acknowledged that “We have to be concerned about the abuse of it but we want the proper use.”

There are politically ethical questions that this move raises too. Could Adams’ robocall make a Spanish-speaking person more likely to vote for him if that person believes that the mayor speaks their language?

Adams mentioned the deep fake robocalls during a press conference about the city’s new Artificial Intelligence Action Plan.

The action plan outlines project timelines and aspirations for the safe use of AI to serve the city’s 8 million residents more effectively.

“I am proud to introduce a plan that will strike a critical balance in the global AI conversation — one that will empower city agencies to deploy technologies that can improve lives while protecting against those that can do harm,” Adams said.

One of the latest examples of the city using AI is the MyCity Chatbot which answers queries related to business registrations and regulations.

The forward-thinking AI approach Adams has taken may be laudable, albeit with some questionable initiatives like fake robocalls.

Doubling down on his deepfakes Adams said, “Is this ethically right or wrong? I got one thing, I got to run a city, and I have to be able to speak to people in languages they understand … to all, all I can say is ni hao.”

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Eugene van der Watt

Eugene comes from an electronic engineering background and loves all things tech. When he takes a break from consuming AI news you'll find him at the snooker table.


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