Parents Use AI to Revive Children’s Voices to Appeal Lawmakers

The bereaved parents of a teenager who lost his life in 2018’s Parkland school shooting in Florida have initiated an audacious project, known as The Shotline. This initiative relies on artificial intelligence to regenerate the voices of youngsters who fell victim to firearm incidents, then uses these voices in automated calls to political representatives, urging stronger gun laws, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Launched on Wednesday, six years post Parkland tragedy – where 17 lives were lost and multiple injuries suffered – The Shotline includes voices of children as young as ten and young adults across the US who lost their lives to gun violence. Users enter their zip code, which pinpoints your local representative. An automated call is then made using the voice of one of the six deceased children or young adults advocating for rigorous firearm control legislation.

“The AI has reconstructed my voice and I’m here today because of my parents,” says the AI generated voice of Joaquin Oliver, a teenager who lost his life in the Parkland incident. “More victims like me will be contacting you,” it warns. As of publication time, the website has facilitated over 8,000 such AI calls to lawmakers.

“This problem is exclusive to the US and we haven’t been able to solve it,” Joaquin’s father, Manuel Oliver, who initiated this venture alongside his wife Patricia, told the Journal. “If we have to use creepy tactics to solve it, then indeed, welcome to the creepy.”

Voice cloning service from startup ElevenLabs, which recently received $80 million funding led by Andreessen Horowitz, was used to emulate the voices. With a few minutes of vocal samples, the software can clone voices in over two dozen languages. The Olivers used their late son’s social media posts to obtain his voice samples. Parents and legal guardians of firearm victims can complete a form to add their voices to The Shotline’s collection of AI-created voices.

The project ignited debates over the ethical issues around leveraging AI to generate deepfakes of voices of the deceased. The Federal Communications Commission recently stated that robocalls employing AI voices are unlawful, following a spate of anonymous calls posing as President Joe Biden advising voters in New Hampshire to abstain from voting in the state primary. A Pindrop examination found Biden’s audio deepfake was crafted using EleventLabs software. It’s unclear if parents of underage children have the rights to their children’s likenesses, explained the company co-founder Mati Staniszewski.