The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has leveraged artificial intelligence to deliver a speech despite being incarcerated, in a move that has been termed groundbreaking by his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The speech was made available to the public through a deepfake video—a technology that synthesizes realistic video content—during an online rally.
Deepfake Technology Explained
Deepfake involves combining and superimposing existing images and videos onto source images or videos using a machine learning technique known as generative adversarial networks (GANs). In this instance, Khan's notes, conveyed to his lawyers, were transformed into a synthetic voice by ElevenLabs' AI tool that can simulate a person's voice from audio samples. The audio was then matched to existing video footage of Khan to create the illusion of him giving the speech.
بانی چیئرمین تحریک انصاف عمران خان نے جیل سے اپنے پیغام میں اپنے تمام سوشل میڈیا وارئیرز کا دل سے شکریہ ادا کیا اور ان کو اسی جذبے اور لگن سے کام کرنے کی ہدایت۔ pic.twitter.com/oZWFC7o3eD
— PTI (@PTIofficial) December 17, 2023
Internet Censorship Amidst Digital Activism
Reports from internet watchdog NetBlocks suggested that social media platforms experienced throttling during the rally, which appears to align with prior instances of internet censorship targeting Khan and PTI. As a response to the virtual event, access to platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube was disrupted nationwide.
Since his deposition in April 2022 following a no-confidence motion, Khan has encountered numerous legal challenges, culminating in a three-year prison sentence on charges of illegally selling state gifts. Despite these setbacks, Khan and PTI are actively campaigning for Pakistan's forthcoming election scheduled for February 8, 2024. Khan's innovative use of AI from jail to connect with supporters reflects a pioneering moment in political campaigning, as it bypasses traditional barriers to communication. Even with grammatical imperfections noted in the AI voice, the application of such technology in delivering political messages could significantly reshape the landscape of electoral politics.