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NYC Mayor Adams Uses AI Voice Clone for Multilingual Robocalls

New York City Mayor Eric Adams deployed a generative AI voice clone of himself speaking multiple languages in a set of robocalls to voters. Adams revealed his voice clone calls while unveiling the “MyCity Chatbot,” tool beginning to roll out, which employs Microsoft Azure generative AI to help small business owners find city resources. It’s part of the city’s new Artificial Intelligence Action Plan.

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The Mayor’s office synthesized Adams’ voice to produce robocalls in Spanish, Mandarin, Yiddish, and other languages. Adams does not fluently speak any languages besides English. The realistic-sounding multilingual calls are entirely AI-rendered using text input in those languages.
The brand of synthetic speech technology has not been identified, but there are plenty that could handle the task. At a press conference this week, Adams was happy to brag about the translated robocalls from his office. He claimed New Yorkers frequently stop him to praise his Mandarin abilities after hearing a call.

“We have started doing, which I’m really excited about, we have started doing robocalls with my voice in many different languages,” Adams said at the press conference. “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.”

Adams described how people looking for a job who got a robocall from his synthetically generated and translated voice encouraging them to go to a nearby hiring hall event in their native language made the difference between them going and missing out. Adams admitted the calls don’t indicate their AI origin, which sparked some pushback over whether the calls are deceptive, tricking people into thinking Mayor Adams is fluent in languages he does not speak.

“The Mayor is making deep fakes of himself,” Surveillance Technology Oversight Project 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 deep fakes are just a creepy vanity project.”

Adams dismissed the idea that the AI-fueled linguistic skills of his robocall doppelganger are underhanded in any way, sarcastically comparing it to someone assuming the robotic voice of many customer service lines is a real person. He did acknowledge the need to develop an overarching ethical framework for generative AI but rejected the idea that replicating his voice in other languages could be problematic.

“And so these are part of the broader conversations that the philosophical people who have to sit down and figure out, you know, is this ethically right or wrong. I got one thing: 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. “And so, to all, all I can say is a ni hao.”

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