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Story Behind AI Robocall Revealed

As you may recall, there was a fake Joe Biden robocall deployed before the New Hampshire primary (you can hear it here, if you wish). What it said, in brief, was that Democrats should not vote in the primary, because that would only "help" Donald Trump, and that they should instead save their votes for November.

Thanks to an investigation from the New Hampshire AG's office, as well as the work of enterprising reporters, the full story on that AI call is now known, and it involved three key players. The first is Dean Phillips, who footed the bill for the whole operation. The Phillips campaign claims they paid $250,000 to political operative Steve Kramer to secure ballot access for the candidate, and that beyond that, they have no knowledge of what Kramer did with the money. Readers can decide for themselves how much they believe that.

The second key player is Paul Carpenter, a street magician based in New Orleans, who actually did the computer work to create the message. Carpenter claims he is apolitical and also that he did not know how the message was going to be utilized. "I created the gun. I didn't shoot it," he told reporters. Readers can decide for themselves how much they believe that.

The final key player is Kramer, who was clearly the linchpin of the scheme. He is eager to avoid prosecution, of course, not to mention a lawsuit from the Phillips campaign. So, he claims that the robocall was just an experiment, and that the message only went out to about 5,000 New Hampshire voters. Readers can decide for themselves how much they believe that.

In the end, we wonder how effective these stunts will really be. The FEC has now made clear that doing this is illegal, although the sort of buck-passing we see with the New Hampshire situation may make it difficult to finger an actual perpetrator. However, while the technology is very good right now, it's not perfect, and there are telltale signs that the voice is not real. Considering the Biden message, for example, listen to the phrase "elect... Donald Trump... again." The pauses that appear just aren't natural, especially the one between "Trump" and "again."

Eventually, the tech will get better, while the people who apply the tech will presumably be more skilled than a guy who bends forks on the street for a living. But by the time that happens, won't the message about the possibility of AI fakery be out there? How many people these days REALLY believe Bill Gates is e-mailing them about an opportunity to win $100 for testing a new version of Windows, or that the bank needs to double-check your ATM PIN so just click on this link, or that a prince in Nigeria needs your help expatriating $10 million from that country? If a robocall or a YouTube video or a photograph doesn't pass the smell test (and the Biden robocall does not, since it makes no sense that voting would help Donald Trump), then won't people just dismiss it as fakery? (Z)

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