Akhtar Soomro – Reuters – File
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 17, 2023.
Pakistan The former besieged Prime Minister Imran Khan He gave a rousing speech to supporters from behind bars, using artificial intelligence to create an audio transcript that allowed the jailed politician to campaign for his party months before an expected general election.
Khan has been imprisoned since last August after being convicted of corruption. He is also accused of leaking confidential documents, allegations which the cricketer-turned-politician has repeatedly denied and which he says are aimed at preventing him from standing in the general election expected in February.
The country’s media regulator banned television stations from broadcasting Khan’s speeches after his brief arrest in May led to deadly riots, prompting the government to shut down the internet for three days.
The legal proceedings against Khan took place behind closed doors. No photo of Khan in prison or in court has been released to the public since his arrest in August.
His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party held an online rally on Sunday that lasted about seven hours, during which it released a roughly four-minute clip that used artificial intelligence technology to mimic Khan’s voice. The audio was overlaid with old footage and photos of the country’s former leader.
A caption on the video read: “Imran Khan’s AI based voice based on his observations of the session (march) from prison.”
“My fellow Pakistanis, firstly, I would like to commend my social media team for this historic attempt,” the AI voice said. “You may be wondering about my condition in prison… My insistence on true freedom is strong.”
The voice added: “Our party is not allowed to hold public rallies. Our people are being kidnapped and families are being harassed.”
In the video, the AI voice imitating Khan urged his supporters to vote in the upcoming general elections.
Khan came to power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform, a message that resonated with the country’s youth, who analysts say have been left disenfranchised by the political dynasties and military institutions that have ruled Pakistan for more than seven decades of its existence.
Four years into his term, opposition lawmakers accused Khan of pushing the country to the brink of economic collapse. He was removed from power in a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April 2022.
For months afterward, Khan attracted tens of thousands to rallies across the country to protest his ouster. The demonstrations have become a staple of Pakistan’s turbulent political landscape and made the former cricket captain one of the country’s most popular leaders ever, paving the way for nearly a year of sometimes violent protests.
Khan’s virtual rally on Sunday attracted more than 1.4 million views on YouTube and was watched live on other social media platforms by tens of thousands. NetBlocks, an internet watchdog that monitors cybersecurity, said social media platforms were restricted in Pakistan for about seven hours on Sunday during PTI’s virtual rally.
The use of AI-based voice recording is seen as an example of how AI technology can be used by politicians who say they are fighting state repression.
Although Khan is still behind bars and is no longer the leader of the PTI, he remains the face of the party.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”