How AI is being used to revive dead Indian politicians as elections approach | Business and economics
Bengaluru, India – On January 23, Indian cinema and political icon M Karunanidhi appeared before a live audience on a big screen to congratulate his 82-year-old friend and fellow politician TR Balu on the launch of his autobiography.
He was wearing his trademark black sunglasses, a white shirt, and a yellow shawl around his shoulders – Karunanidhi’s style was unmistakable. In his eight minutes letterthe veteran poet-turned-politician congratulated the author of the book, but was also effusive in his praise of the able leadership of MK Stalin, his son and current leader of the country.
Karunanidhi has been dead since 2018. This was the third time, in the past six months, that the popular Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader was resurrected using artificial intelligence (AI) for such public events.
“When the Covid pandemic swept the world, our Prime Minister ran in the direction of the panicked voices of the people,” Karunanidhi said. “The nation knows the way you fought to save people’s lives, and so do I.”
“There is an open market (for such deepfakes)…,” Senthil Nayagam, founder of Muonium, the AI-powered media technology company that produced Karunanidhi’s fake video, told Al Jazeera. You can attribute certain sayings to a specific person and that kind of gives more value to it.”
It was AI Karunanidhi’s first public appearance in local media It happened of last year last September, which was followed by another campaign for members of his party. The resurrected leader often congratulates party workers and particularly praises the leadership of his son, MK Stalin, with the aim of boosting his popularity.
At the book launch in January, A.I. Karunanidhi recounted everything from student debt forgiveness and cash handouts to the poor, to women-friendly policies and restrictive investments — a list of his son’s achievements over the years that have moved the country forward.
Karunanidhi’s last public interview was in 2016, before his voice became raspy and his body weakened. Nayagam used publicly available Karunanidhi data to train a speech model and recreate an image of the leader in the 1990s when he was much younger. He said the text of the pre-recorded AI speech was provided by the local DMK cadre and was vetted by party functionaries.
TR Balu, whose team agreed to create AI Karunanidhi, did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Karunanidhi was one of India’s longest-serving legislators, having led Tamil Nadu for nearly two decades and serving as chief minister for five terms. The poet-turned-politician wrote screenplays about lower-class liberation and continues to have influence among older voters.
According to local media reports, the reaction to these AI videos has prompted the DMK leadership to consider creating AI Karunanidhi’s campaign speeches in the upcoming 2024 parliamentary election campaign.
An ethical and legal dilemma
Even as policymakers evaluate cases for the types of AI communications that should be regulated, in a first-of-its-kind use, one political party has used AI to resurrect a powerful political figure of yesteryear to bolster today’s leader.
But it also raised some troubling ethical and legal questions: “It’s one thing to use AI to create synthetic audio and video by a living person who has signed off on the content,” said Amber Sinha, a senior fellow for Trustworthy AI at the Mozilla Foundation. Attributing opinions to him is an entirely different matter.
But the genie is already out of the bottle. According to Dejaj Mogra, Director, Jarvis Consulting, one of India’s largest political consulting firms, AI-facilitated content marketing for election campaigns, including voice calls and SMS, avatar creation, personalized media outreach, and multilingual creatives Created by artificial intelligence on social media, this is essential. An estimated $60 million market opportunity in India this election year.
“In Tamil Nadu, all the top leaders of every party are no longer there,” Nayagam said, referring to former actors-turned-politicians Jayalalithaa, M G Ramachandran and Vijayakanth. Nayagam said he has been in contact with several low-level staffers across party lines who are interested in leveraging AI for similar deepfakes.
He said interest in such applications increased after he shared a four-minute song on Channel X last year in September sound clip From Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat program, which his company has reproduced in eight languages. These intriguing inquiries gave Nayagam and other consultants the idea of a business opportunity in electioneering using artificial intelligence.
Globally, more than 60 countries are scheduled to hold national elections in 2024, and the potential misuse of artificial intelligence to influence public opinion has caused a moral panic and become a hot-button global issue.
Ahead of the Indonesian presidential campaign, Prabowo Subianto, the former military general accused of atrocities against pro-democracy activists, is using generative AI to reimagine himself as a chubby-cheeked avatar of AI, to appeal to young voters.
In South Asia, the use of AI in campaigns and abuse cases has gained great importance. In Bangladesh, pro-government accounts used deepfake to target opposition parties. In Pakistan, former Prime Minister Imran Khan campaigned from inside his prison cell by passing written notes to his lawyers, which are converted into AI-powered audio speeches using software from US-based startup ElevenLabs.
“This particular use of AI in campaigns seems to be taking off in South Asia in a big way,” said Sinha of the Mozilla Foundation.
On January 21, the DMK organized its second annual youth wing conference in the temple city of Salem. The mega event hosted in an open arena attracted a crowd of 500,000 supporters and served as the official launch of the 2024 election campaign for the DMK. Party leaders made inflammatory speeches challenging the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), criticizing its policies including the weakening of state powers by the BJP-ruled Centre.
In this campaign, AI Karunanidhi once again makes a surprise video appearance. “Many states’ hard-fought rights were lost during the 10-year BJP rule,” Karunanidhi said, explaining the BJP’s continued hostility towards Tamil Nadu.
The video is three minutes long letteraccompanied by inspiring music, concludes with I. Karunanidhi calling for the strengthening of state rights and urging young cadres to fight for a democratic future.
“This has been created by the party’s digital media wing to encourage and motivate cadres,” DMK spokesperson Dharanidharan Selvam told Al Jazeera. “I think the cadres were definitely excited and enthusiastic.”
Sumanth Raman, a Chennai-based political commentator, said deceased leaders have become popular in political campaigns “because they are still more popular than living leaders.” “You don’t have mass leaders of the size of Ms. Jayalalithaa” — another political star — “or Mr. Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu at the moment.”
In the past thirty years, more than six political parties have been established by state actors. Many of the leaders came from the film world where they played larger-than-life characters, and people always put them on a pedestal, Raman said.
“But that’s kind of being designed as we move into the next generation, which is where we are now. Leaders face much greater scrutiny on a daily basis, and so you don’t have this huge aura around that.”
“Taking advantage of a dead person’s popularity”
The impact of the revival of prominent leaders on the masses is still unfolding. “I think this was a very ordinary effort, it went to their party men, so they embraced it,” Raman said of the AI video speech. “Today’s artificial intelligence is capable of taking better photos.”
As for the book launch video, it’s clearly artificial, as the lip syncing doesn’t quite match. However, Karunanidhi’s voice reflects reality.
Nayagam, creator of AI Karunanidhi, said one of the reasons for the incomplete visuals is the unavailability of high-quality video datasets, which forced them to source whatever was available online.
The video broadcast at the youth conference was better, but was inconsistent near the mouth. However, online audience response to the videos has been good suitable, with some commenting “excellent” on YouTube. Both videos are clearly labeled as being created by artificial intelligence.
India saw its first-ever use of deepfakes in election campaigns in 2020, when BJP politician Manoj Tiwari imposed sanctions for creating and distributing fake videos of himself campaigning in Haryanvi and English, languages he does not speak. Experts denounced the video, but on the grounds that it was shared without revealing that it had been manipulated by artificial intelligence.
Sinha said one might argue that creating videos of politicians using AI is an extension of the use of photos or images of the dead by their political parties, such as the use of images of Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi after their death at the hands of India. National Senate.
“However, creating synthetic audio or video goes several steps further,” Sinha said. “In both cases, the party is trying to capitalize on the popularity of the deceased person, but in the latter case, opinions and messages are actively attributed to him.”
An additional puzzle in resurrecting a dead politician is: who owns the rights to the dead person’s voice and likeness?
“This of course has no legal basis in India, because we do not have any rights provided for deceased persons in India, but from an ethical point of view, consent must be taken into account,” said Devika Malik, a humanitarian coordinator in India. The Delhi-based technology policy consultant focused on online trust and safety. Indian law provides legal protection against defamation of a deceased person.
Indian politicians are also actively seeking AI solutions for upcoming campaigns. Jarvis Consulting’s Mogra said individual candidates are trying to use AI voice transcription to push outgoing automated calls or IVRS (Interactive Voice Response System) with recorded voice and personalized names in their messages. “There are many vendors going around the country doing this, selling it at very nominal prices,” Mogra said.
There was already a thriving artificial media economy based on the permissible use of deepfakes by actors and executives, and this market has expanded into the political sphere. Consultancy firms such as Polymath Solutions, run by Devendra Singh Jadon, use audio reproduction to deliver “personal messages” from politicians to party workers on the ground.
“It will be widely used in these elections,” Mogra said. However, “it is a double-edged sword. It will create a lot of misinformation and disinformation. “I think the benefits would be lower, and the issues of error/misinformation would be higher.”
From a social influence perspective, it is still unclear to what extent AI-powered videos — even poorly produced ones — can shape voter attitudes.
Even when such videos are not of high quality, “in the case of a famous former speaker like M Karunanidhi, it can bring more attention to the messages and help them spread widely,” Sinha said.
His latest work research It highlights how “diffuse actors” or political consultants, who despite not having a party affiliation, collaborate with campaigns to spread their message.
Malik added that leveraging emotional appeals from specific supporters or families – especially when personalized and sent via WhatsApp – can be an effective communication strategy and can influence voters’ opinion.
But the views of policy advocates and practitioners differ sharply on the effectiveness of synthetic media.
Jarvis’ Mogra predicts that the novelty factor in AI-driven personal messaging by politicians — whether audio or video — will soon erode. “If people start seeing this more often, they’ll realize it’s happening everywhere, and see it everywhere — just like it happened with WhatsApp,” he said.
Previously, political parties had shown extra focus on creating WhatsApp groups for communication. Now, everyone knows that everyone is part of hundreds of groups and no one cares much or reads all the chats.
“I think we will encounter similar problems much more quickly with generative AI solutions and these use cases,” Mogra said.
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