Imran Khan employs an AI replica to run his campaign while in prison in Pakistan.

PTI party utilizes a ‘voice clone’ of the incarcerated opposition leader for an impassioned speech in a ‘virtual rally’

Thanks to artificial intelligence, former prime minister Imran Khan of Pakistan was able to campaign from prison on Monday. A voice clone of the opposition leader delivered a passionate speech on Khan’s behalf.

Since August, Khan has been imprisoned and is currently facing trial for leaking classified documents. He claims that these allegations have been fabricated to prevent him from contesting the upcoming general elections in February.

Despite internet disruptions that were consistent with previous censorship attempts on Khan, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party used artificial intelligence for a four-minute message during a “virtual rally” hosted on social media from Sunday night to Monday. NetBlocks, a monitoring organization, reported these disturbances.

The PTI party stated that Khan sent a shorthand script through his lawyers, which was then transformed into his rhetorical style. The text was then converted into audio using a tool offered by the AI firm ElevenLabs, known for its capability to create a “voice clone” from existing speech samples.

The voice imitating Khan expressed, “My fellow Pakistanis, I would first like to commend the social media team for this historic effort. Perhaps you are all wondering how I am doing in jail.” The voice added, “Today, my determination for real freedom is very strong.”

According to PTI, the video message was accompanied by authentic video clips of Khan’s previous speeches. Captions intermittently appeared, identifying it as the “AI voice of Imran Khan based on his notes.”

“When Imran Khan is no longer able to physically attend a political rally, this was an easy decision for us,” said the PTI’s social media chief Jibran Ilyas, based in the United States. “It was meant to overcome suppression.”

PTI was the first political party in Pakistan to effectively leverage the power of social media. They used various applications to target younger audiences, leading them to victory in the previous elections five years ago.

“We wanted to get in election mode,” Ilyas told AFP. “No PTI political rally is complete without Imran Khan.”

Earlier this year, state censors banned Khan from appearing on the airwaves after his brief arrest in May resulted in riots.

NetBlocks reported that social media was restricted for seven hours starting late on Sunday, indicating an incident “consistent with previous instances of internet censorship” targeting Khan.

“It wasn’t very convincing,” said 38-year-old business manager Syed Muhammad Ashar in Lahore. “The grammar was odd too. But they deserve credit for trying.”

“Honestly, nothing can replace a genuine rally and speech,” remarked media worker Hussain Javed Afroze, while appreciating the digitally delivered oration. “No other party utilizes technology like PTI does. These are new tools, so using them is a positive thing.”

Analysts have long warned about the potential misuse of artificial intelligence by malicious actors to impersonate leaders and spread disinformation. However, less attention has been given to how the technology can be employed to bypass state suppression.

Khan, who is immensely popular, was ousted last year after falling out with Pakistan’s military leadership, which analysts assert played a significant role in his rise to power in 2018.

Following his removal, he launched an unprecedented campaign of defiance, accusing top military officials of conspiring with the United States against him and claiming that senior officers plotted an assassination attempt that left him injured.

Since Khan’s arrest in May, which resulted in riots, the PTI party has faced a massive crackdown by the military establishment, which has directly governed Pakistan for a majority of its history.

Pakistan’s election commission has confirmed that elections will be held on February 8.

Although Khan was replaced as the leader of PTI while in jail, he remains the figurehead of the party.

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