Imran Khan courts votes via AI clone from Pakistani prison

  • Pakistan’s opposition leader and former prime minister, Imran Khan, has used artificial intelligence (AI) technology to deliver a campaign speech from behind bars.
  • His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), used AI to create a “voice clone” of Khan which then read out a four-minute message during a virtual rally on social media.
  • The AI version of Khan used a script sent by Khan and transformed it into his rhetorical style using a tool from AI firm, ElevenLabs.
  • The campaign message was seen by over 4.5 million people, despite social media restrictions.

In a move demonstrating the potential of AI in politics, Khan’s PTI party hosted a ‘virtual rally’ on social media where an AI ‘voice clone’ of Khan delivered a passionate speech, even as the leader himself remained imprisoned on charges of leaking classified documents. Khan maintains his imprisonment since August is an attempt to keep him away from the general elections scheduled for February.

PTI used AI firm ElevenLabs’ tool that specialises in creating voice clones from existing speech samples, to deliver the four-minute speech in a style matching Khan’s. The party contends that the voice clone was necessary as “no PTI political rally is complete without Imran Khan.”

PTI was the first political party in Pakistan to extensively leverage social media to reach its youthful target audience, a strategy that contributed to its electoral victory five years ago. However, the state censors banned Khan from the airwaves this year, creating a need for novel ways to connect with voters.

Despite late Sunday social media restrictions, labelled by internet monitors NetBlocks as “consistent with previous instances of internet censorship” targeting Khan, the virtual rally reached more than 4.5 million people – highlighting the successful use of AI in bypassing traditional censorship methods in this context.

However, the technology’s use has also raised concerns among analysts who caution that it could potentially be used by malicious entities to impersonate leaders and disseminate disinformation. Less explored, however, is their application in overcoming state suppression, as evidenced by Khan’s campaign.

Despite his legal predicament, Khan remains a popular figure in Pakistan. He was deposed after falling out with the country’s military leaders, who, analysts believe, played a significant role in his 2018 ascent to power.

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