Using artificial intelligence tools, New York City Mayor Eric Adams sent a flood of robocalls to residents in languages he doesn’t speak.
That includes “thousands” of robocalls in Spanish, more than 250 in Yiddish, more than 160 in Mandarin, 89 in Cantonese and 23 in Haitian Creole. The city reports. That has sparked criticism about how ethical it is for Adams to present herself to potential voters as someone who speaks her native language when she doesn’t actually speak it.
“This is deeply unethical, especially if it involves taxpayer money. Using AI to convince New Yorkers that it speaks languages they don’t is deeply Orwellian,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), in a statement.
“This is deeply unethical, especially if it involves taxpayer money.”
Adams spoke about multilingual robocalls during a Press conference yesterday about the new city Artificial Intelligence Action Plan. “We see this as something that can be used generally throughout the city where we offer any type of service…we will eventually expand so that all services are served through a bot,” said the city of New York’s chief technology officer. York, Matthew. Fraser said at the briefing. For now, however, the city only has one new tool called MyCityChatbot which uses Microsoft Azure AI to answer questions about starting a new business.
Adams was also eager to talk about the robocalls his office has already made in other languages. “I was excited when my voice went over the phone to a person who speaks Mandarin and they were able to hear their mayor speak to them in his language,” he said at the press conference. “People stop me on the street all the time and say, ‘I didn’t know you spoke Mandarin.’”
He does not do it. And the robocalls, which have mostly been to promote bookings for venues and concerts, don’t tell people that it’s an AI-generated voice speaking to them.
When asked by a reporter about the possibility of fooling people into believing he can speak multiple languages, Adams defended himself by saying it was a way to reach residents who speak languages other than English.
“Is this ethically right or wrong? I have one thing: I have to run a city and I have to be able to talk to people in languages they understand… everyone, all I can say is nor hao” Adams said as he closed the press conference with a laugh.
The city uploaded the mayor’s robocall in Spanish to Youtube for anyone who wants to listen to it. It’s disconcerting how much it resembles Adams’ voice. “The mayor is falsifying himself,” Cahn said. “Yes, we need ads in all the native languages of New Yorkers, but deepfakes are just a creepy vanity project.”