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Tuesday July 23, 2024

Imran uses AI voice clone to campaign from jail

By Our Correspondent
December 19, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Artificial intelligence (AI) allowed Pakistan’s ex-prime minister Imran Khan to campaign from behind bars on Monday, with a voice clone of the opposition leader giving an impassioned speech on his behalf.

Imran Khan has been locked up since August and is being tried for leaking classified documents, allegations he says have been trumped up to stop him contesting general election due in February.

This image released on August 13, 2023, shows former PM Imran Khan delivering a speech to his party workers and supporters on Pakistan Independence Day Jalsa in Lahore on 13th August 2022. — Facebook/Imran Khan
This image released on August 13, 2023, shows former PM Imran Khan delivering a speech to his party workers and supporters on Pakistan Independence Day Jalsa in Lahore on 13th August 2022. — Facebook/Imran Khan

But his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party used artificial intelligence to make a four-minute message from the 71-year-old, headlining a “virtual rally” hosted on the social media overnight Sunday into Monday despite internet disruptions, which monitor NetBlocks said were consistent with previous attempts to censor Khan.

PTI said Imran Khan sent a shorthand script through lawyers which was fleshed out into his rhetorical lingo. The text was then dubbed into audio using a tool from AI firm ElevenLabs, which boasts the ability to create a “voice clone” from existing speech samples.

“My fellow Pakistanis, I would first like to praise the social media team for this historic attempt,” the voice mimicking Khan said. “Maybe you all are wondering how I am doing in jail,” the stilted voice adds. “Today, my determination for real freedom is very strong.”

He urged his party workers and people at large not to let anyone rob them of their basic right to vote on February 8, 2024 in any circumstances. In a special message through the party’s core committee, he emphasised that vote was their basic constitutional, legal and democratic right and they should not allow it to be snatched. The incarcerated PTI ‘chairman-for-life’ called upon people that they should prepare themselves well for the upcoming elections in order to make sure polling of their votes in a safe manner.

He made it clear that the ‘deferment of the elections or any attack on transparency’ was not in the interest of the country and the party’s workers and people should plan together to prevent and foil any such attacks.

The PTI founding chairman categorically said that those who were hell bent on pushing Pakistan into the darkness of destruction and lawlessness could not defeat the PTI and people standing behind it in the elections come what may.

The audio was broadcast at the end of a five-hour live-stream of speeches by PTI supporters on Facebook, X and YouTube, and was overlaid with historic footage of Khan and still images.

It was bookended with genuine video clips from the onetime cricket star´s former speeches according to PTI, but a caption appeared at intervals flagging it as the “AI voice of Imran Khan based on his notes”. “This was a no-brainer for us, when Imran Khan is no longer there to actually meet at a political rally,” said US-based PTI social media chief Jibran Ilyas. “It was to get over the suppression.”

PTI was the first political party in Pakistan to widely harness the potential of social media, using apps to target younger audiences who carried them to power five years ago. “We wanted to get in election mode,” Ilyas told AFP. “No PTI political rally is complete without Imran Khan.”

Global network monitor NetBlocks said social media was restricted for seven hours starting late Sunday in an incident “consistent with previous instances of internet censorship” targeting Khan.

Nonetheless, the virtual rally was viewed by more than 4.5 million people across Facebook, X and YouTube.

“It wasn’t very convincing,” said 38-year-old business manager Syed Muhammad Ashar in Lahore. “The grammar was strange too. But I will give them marks for trying.” “Frankly, nothing can replace a real rally and a real speech.”

But media worker Hussain Javed Afroze praised the digitally-delivered oration. “No other party uses technology like PTI does,” the 42-year-old said. “These are new tools, so I think it’s a positive thing to use them.”

Analysts have long warned bad actors may use artificial intelligence to impersonate leaders and sow disinformation, but far less has been said on how the technology may be used to skirt state suppression.

Meanwhile, the Web-Based Management System (WMS) was strangulated by the regulator Sunday night in different parts of Pakistan, resulting into disruptions of internet services. It caused experiencing of slowing down of social media platforms in certain parts of the country.

The browsing of social media including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others witnessed slowdown on Sunday night when the PTI was holding virtual gathering after announcement of elections schedule by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Now the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has been conducting investigation to ascertain facts on complaints of slowing down of internet services in many parts of the country.

This scribe contacted the PTA spokesperson and asked why there was disruptions in internet services on Sunday night when the PTI was doing virtual Jalsa? The spokesperson replied: “The complaints related to internet slowdown in some areas of the country are being investigated. The overall situation of internet accessibility across the country appears normal”.

According to Downdetector, the apps, especially the website versions went down after 7:00pm on Sunday. Karachi, Lahore, Mirpur Khas, and Rawalpindi were the most affected cities in the country.

Some users had also taken to WhatsApp to report the internet’s lagging issues. Several internet users complained of slow internet, but some pointed out that the internet was working fine when the VPN was turned on, which grew concerns among the masses making them question if it was advertently slowed down.

A journalist on X wrote, “Having trouble accessing Twitter/X and other social media platforms. Overall internet seems slow as well. Anyone else in Pakistan facing the same?”

A large number of people responded that they were also facing the same issue. Another X user said, “In Pakistan, there are limitations imposed on internet access and the use of social media applications. Could you please confirm this information?”

Sources told The News the PTA had installed Web-based Management System, which experienced slowing down on Sunday night exactly at a time when the PTI had arranged its virtual meeting. There are different internet providers through submarine cables, being undertaken and managed by the PTCL and Trans World, and it was the country’s domain to slow down internet services.

There are now six international submarine cable systems connecting Pakistan, including SMW3, SMW4, SMW5, IMEWE, AAE-1 and TW1. Additionally, Orient Express and PEACE cable systems are under construction.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Limited Company (PTCL) is the national telecommunication company in Pakistan and an incumbent telecommunications operator in Pakistan. It is the landing party in Pakistan for SMW3, SMW4, AAE-1 and IMEWE cable systems, operates cable landing stations in Karachi. SMW3, SMW4 and IMEWE land at Hawksbay beach, while AAE-1 lands at Clifton beach close to Captain Farhan Ali Shaheed Park.

Transworld Associates Private Limited (Transworld, or TWA) privately owns the TW1 cable system and is a member of the SMW5 consortium. Both TW1 and SMW5 land at Hawksbay beach and terminate at Transworld’s cable landing station in Karachi.

Wi-Tribe LDI Pakistan is building the Orient Express submarine cable system, to be landed in Karachi and Gwadar. Cyber Internet Services Private Ltd. (Cybernet) is the landing party in Pakistan for the PEACE cable system, to be landed in Karachi and Gwadar.

According to the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 (Act), the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is a body corporate to regulate the establishment, operation and maintenance of telecommunication systems and the provision of telecommunication services in Pakistan, in addition to other functions.

According to the Act, no person shall establish, maintain or operate any telecommunication system or provide any telecommunication service unless he has obtained a licence under this Act.

The Telecom Infrastructure Providers (TIP) licence authorises the licensee to establish and maintain the infrastructure facilities (Earth Stations, Optic Fibre Cable (OFC), Radio Communication links, Towers, Poles etc.) in Pakistan to lease, rent out or sell end to end links to telecom operators licensed by PTA.