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NYC Mayor Eric Adams uses AI to make robocalls in languages he doesn’t speak

NYC Mayor Eric Adams uses AI to make robocalls in languages he doesn’t speak


The calls have already triggered alarm over whether the mayor is misleading people.

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Eric Adams speaking into a microphone
Mayor Eric Adams during a press conference at City Hall Blue Room on Tuesday, October 10th, 2023. 
Photo by Luiz C. Ribeiro for NY Daily News via Getty Images

Thanks to artificial intelligence tools, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has sent a barrage 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’s triggered pushback over how ethical it is for Adams to portray himself to potential voters as someone who speaks their native language when he actually doesn’t.

“This is deeply unethical, especially on the taxpayer’s dime. Using AI to convince New Yorkers that he speaks languages that he doesn’t is deeply Orwellian,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), said in a statement.

“This is deeply unethical, especially on the taxpayer’s dime.”

Adams talked about the multilingual robocalls during a press conference yesterday about the city’s new Artificial Intelligence Action Plan. “We see this as something that can be generally used across the entire city where we’re offering any type of service ... we will eventually expand so that all services will be serviced through a bot,” New York City chief technology officer Matthew Fraser said in the briefing. For now, though, the city just has a new tool called MyCityChatbot that uses Microsoft Azure AI to answer questions about how to start a new business.

Adams was also eager to talk about the robocalls his office has already made in other languages. “I was excited when I had my voice go over the phone to a person who speaks Mandarin, and they were able to hear their mayor speak to them in their language,” he said in the press conference. “People stop me on the street all the time, and they say, ‘I didn’t know you speak Mandarin.’”

He doesn’t. And the robocalls, which have mostly been to promote hiring halls and concerts, don’t tell people that it’s an AI-generated voice speaking to them.

When asked by a reporter about potentially misleading people to think 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 got one thing, I got to run a city, and I have to be able to speak to people in languages they understand ... to all, all I can say is ni 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 take a listen. It’s unnerving how much it sounds like Adams’ voice. “The Mayor is making deep fakes of himself,” Cahn said. “Yes, we need announcements in all of New Yorkers’ native languages, but the deep fakes are just a creepy vanity project.”