Ex-PM Imran Khan uses AI to replicate his voice for a party rally

FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures as he speaks to the members of the media at his residence in Lahore, Pakistan May 18, 2023. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/File Photo

Imprisoned former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, used an artificially-generated audio clip to deliver a speech during a virtual rally from jail – a pioneering event in the South Asian nation. Khan presented a four-minute address on Sunday, employing the AI-generated clip overlaid on a video featuring his AI-created image, alongside images from past Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) rallies and earlier speeches.

Despite reported internet outages in various parts of the country, the PTI claimed that its virtual rally garnered over five million views on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and X. The purpose of organising the internet rally was to circumvent a government ban on public rallies imposed on the party as it prepares for the upcoming general elections on February 8.

Expressing frustration with the restrictions, the AI-generated voice imitating Khan in the clip stated, “Our party is not permitted to hold public rallies. Our people are being abducted, and their families are facing harassment.” The voice, accompanied by a disclaimer that the speech is based on Khan’s notes from prison, added, “History will remember your sacrifices,” alluding to the prolonged state crackdown on the PTI, resulting in the arrest of numerous party leaders or their alleged coercion to resign from the organisation.

Imran Khan has been in prison since August following his conviction in a case related to the illegal sale of state gifts received during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022. Despite being granted bail in that case, he remains in custody after being accused of leaking state secrets.

Khan vehemently denies the allegations, asserting that the charges against him are a conspiracy orchestrated by the government and the influential military to sideline him and his party in the upcoming February elections. The opposition party has accused the government of intentionally disrupting the internet to prevent Khan’s supporters from viewing his online speech.

Numerous users reported interruptions in the live streaming of the speech, a situation corroborated by NetBlocks, an internet tracking company. In a statement on X, the company stated that metrics showed that major social media platforms were restricted in Pakistan for 7 hours on Sunday evening during an online political gathering. The incident being consistent with previous instances of internet censorship targeting Imran Khan and PTI.

In a statement issued on Monday, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority refuted claims of an internet outage and advised the media to be cautious when sharing unconfirmed news regarding the matter.

PTI supporters were amazed by the innovative approach in hosting the virtual event to navigate around the ban on public rallies. They acknowledged the unique use of artificial intelligence to broadcast a virtual speech in the voice of Imran Khan, describing it as a noteworthy development in the integration of technology into Pakistani politics.

However, we need to be cautious regarding the use of AI tools by political leaders and parties for their campaigns. The innovative use of technology as a means to counteract political crackdowns is a great use of AI, but we need to be sure that politicians are not misusing AI to spread disinformation and manipulate elections, whether by political or non-political entities.


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