An AI-generated image of Imran Khan, taken from the Adobe-owned Behance platform.
An AI-generated image of Imran Khan, taken from the Adobe-owned Behance platform.

ISLAMABAD: The PTI, us­­ually considered a trailblazer in the use of social media for political messaging, successfully used AI to clone the voice of the party’s founder, Imran Khan, who addressed the virtual jalsa while being incarcerated in Adiala Jail.

The audio clip, broadcast on social media in the early hours of Monday at the end of the five-hour-long online event, was played over archival footage of Mr Khan speaking.

Talking to Dawn, Azhar Mashwani, a focal person to the PTI chairman on so­­cial media, said Mr Khan gave a written message from the prison, which was then cloned into a voice resembling his.

“The start and end were in Mr Khan’s original voice, while the rest was computer generated,” he said, adding that the software identified the voice and then delivered the message in a similar tone.

Imran addresses virtual jalsa in ‘cloned voice’; laments ‘attempts to keep PTI out of polls’

“The voice was a 60 to 65 per cent match, which made people believe that Mr Khan actually delivered the speech.”

PTI’s social media head Jib­ran Ilyas told AFP that AI was used “to get over suppression”.

“This was a no-brainer for us when Imran Khan is no longer there to actually speak at a political rally,” he said, adding that the party’s rallies are “[in]complete without Imran Khan”.

As the speech started, the voice resembling that of Mr Khan said he would like to “praise the social media team for this historic attempt”.

The voice then delved into Mr Khan’s idiosyncratic style, criticising his opponents and lamenting the erosion of the rule of law. “Our party is not allowed to hold public rallies,” he said in the speech, urging supporters to turn out in large numbers at general elections set for February 8.

“Our people are being kidnapped, and their families are being harassed. Democracy is being dismantled with a party with over 75pc [approval] rating being kept out of the race,” the voice alleged, warning that it will lead to instability.

Reaction

The novel attempt lent the party acclaim over its use of modern technology.

“It wasn’t very convincing,” Syed Muhammad Ashar, a 38-year-old business manager, told AFP in Lahore.

“The grammar was strange, too. But I will give them marks for trying.”

A media worker, Hussain Javed Afroze, praised the digitally-delivered oration.

“No other party uses technology like PTI does. 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 about how the technology may be used to skirt state suppression.

Core committee issues message

Separately on Monday, PTI’s core committee released another message by Mr Khan, urging his supporters to prepare themselves for the upcoming general elections.

The party’s founding leader said the deferment of elections or any attack on their transparency “was not in the country’s interest” and PTI workers “should plan to foil any such attacks”.

The core committee’s meeting reiterated its demand for the “bat” symbol and welcomed Sardar Latif Khan Khosa into the party.

The meeting expressed confidence in Mr Khosa’s abilities and said that his experience would be useful in achi­eving PTI’s democratic, constitutional and political goals.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2023

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