• November 6, 2023
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

NYC Mayor Uses Voice Tech for Multilingual Robocalls

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New York Mayor Eric Adams revealed in mid-October that he has been using a voice clone of himself to produce robocalls in several languages that he doesn’t actually speak. The robocalls present information on city job fairs and other events in Spanish, Yiddish, Haitian Creole, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, and several other languages.

“I’ve got to run the city, and I have to be able to speak to people in the languages that they understand, and I’m happy to do so,” Adams said at the press conference.

The mayor’s office is reportedly using technology from ElevenLabs for the robocalls.

“This conversational AI is amazing,” Adams said. “Once you put the script into it, it can put it into any language you want with my voice.”

Adams admitted the robocalls don’t disclose that the message was created by AI, which sparked some pushback over whether the calls are deceptive. One of the organizations engaged in the controversy is the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), a New York-based privacy and civil rights group.

“The mayor is making deepfakes of himself,” STOP Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn said in a statement. “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 deepfakes are just a creepy vanity project.”

Adams dismissed the idea that the AI-fueled voice clones are underhanded. At the same time, though, he acknowledged the need to develop an ethical framework for generative AI. In fact, the robocall announcement came during a press conference introducing the MyCity AI-powered chatbot, which uses Microsoft generative AI to help small-business owners find city resources. The city also unveiled the Artificial Intelligence Action Plan, which calls for the responsible use of AI by government agencies.

“AI is some amazing technology that we need to wrap our arms around and not be afraid of,” Adams said at the press conference.

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