"This technology now has the potential to confuse consumers with misinformation."
Last week, alarm was raised when AI was used to imitate the voice of President Joe Biden in bogus phone calls to New Hampshire residents telling them not to vote.
Now, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it intends to make robocalls that use an AI-synthesized voice illegal, CNN reports, as experts and lawmakers fear the potential of the technology to spread disinformation.
The FCC's proposal would criminalize the use of these AI robocalls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) passed in 1991, a provision that's been used to target other forms of illegal robocalls in the past.
"The rise of these types of calls has escalated during the last few years as this technology now has the potential to confuse consumers with misinformation by imitating the voices of celebrities, political candidates, and close family members," the FCC said in a press release Wednesday, as quoted by CNN.
Many forms of robocalls, though not all, are already banned. The reasoning behind explicitly outlawing AI-generated ones, the FCC said, is that it will make it easier for law enforcement, like state attorneys general, to pursue and charge the scammers abusing them.
Concerns over voice cloning technology have reached a high over the past year as the boom in generative AI has seen these powerful tools unleashed to a mass market at a relatively cheap cost. It may have yielded funny memes at first, but soon reared its ugly head.
In March last year, the Federal Trade Commission published a consumer alert warning of scammers using AI technology to impersonate relatives in phone calls. In many cases, these scams have been used to trick unwitting citizens, often elderly, into sending thousands of dollars to who they believe is a relative in need of emergency funds.
Now, in light of the New Hampshire incident, it appears the scams are getting bolder.
According to officials, the yet untraced phone calls used a voice clone of Joe Biden that told listeners that their vote wouldn't make a difference in the state's primary election — an incredibly flagrant attempt at an apparent disinformation campaign that comes at the beginning of what is set to be a contentious election year.
If there's a silver lining, it's that lawmakers are finally waking up to the seriousness of the issue.
"AI-generated voice cloning and images are already sowing confusion by tricking consumers into thinking scams and frauds are legitimate," FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in an emailed statement, as quoted by NBC News.
"No matter what celebrity or politician you favor, or what your relationship is with your kin when they call for help, it is possible we could all be a target of these faked calls," she added.
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