Tests find AI tools readily create election lies from the voices of well-known political leaders

By ALI SWENSON (Associated Press)

NEW YORK (AP) — As high-stakes elections approach in the U.S. and European Union, publicly available artificial intelligence tools can be easily weaponized to churn out convincing election lies in the voices of leading political figures, a digital civil rights group said Friday.

Researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Countering Digital Hate tested six of the most popular AI voice-cloning tools to see if they would generate audio clips of five false statements about elections in the voices of eight prominent American and European politicians.

In a total of 240 tests, the tools generated convincing voice clones in 193 cases, or 80% of the time, the group found. In one clip, a fake U.S. President Joe Biden says election officials count each of his votes twice. In another, a fake French President Emmanuel Macron warns citizens not to vote because of bomb threats at the polls.

The findings reveal a remarkable gap in safeguards against the use of AI-generated audio to mislead voters, a threat that increasingly worries experts as the technology has become both advanced and accessible. While some of the tools have rules or tech barriers in place to stop election disinformation from being generated, the researchers found many of those obstacles were easy to circumvent with quick workarounds.

Only one of the companies whose tools were used by the researchers responded after multiple requests for comment. ElevenLabs said it was constantly looking for ways to boost its safeguards.

With few laws in place to prevent abuse of these tools, the companies’ lack of self-regulation leaves voters vulnerable to AI-generated deception in a year of significant democratic elections around the world. E.U. voters head to the polls in parliamentary elections in less than a week, and U.S. primary elections are ongoing ahead of the presidential election this fall.

“It’s so easy to use these platforms to create lies and to force politicians onto the back foot denying lies again and again and again,” said the center’s CEO, Imran Ahmed. “Unfortunately, our democracies are being sold out for naked greed by AI companies who are desperate to be first to market … despite the fact that they know their platforms simply aren’t safe.”

The center — a nonprofit with offices in the U.S., the U.K. and Belgium — conducted the research in May. Researchers used the online analytics tool Semrush to identify the six publicly available AI voice-cloning tools with the most monthly organic web traffic: ElevenLabs, Speechify, PlayHT, Descript, Invideo AI and Veed.

Next, they submitted real audio clips of the politicians speaking. They prompted the tools to impersonate the politicians’ voices making five baseless statements.