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Robocall Transparency Bill

Are you one of those people who receive calls from an unknown number only to discover that it’s from a superficial or AI-generated voice? Most people are annoyed as they feel like they are being spammed by these so-called robocalls. Many companies use pre-recorded AI voices for promotional, follow-up, and phishing calls. The worst part is that some companies use AI voices to scam others.

With rapid technological advancement, the boundaries between beneficial innovation and potential misuse have become increasingly blurred. One stark example of this dual-edged sword is using artificial intelligence (AI) in robocalls.

As AI technology becomes more accessible and sophisticated, its application in automated phone calls has given rise to new, more deceptive forms of scams. Recognizing this growing threat, California’s Assembly Bill 2905 (AB 2905), authored by Assemblymember Evan Low, seeks to address the issue head-on by mandating transparency in AI-generated robocalls.

The Rise of Robocalls

Robocalls, or automated telephone calls that deliver a prerecorded message, have long been a tool for telemarketers, political campaigns, and even legitimate businesses. Initially, these calls were made using simple mechanical devices like voicemails.

However, with the advent of digital technology, robocalls evolved into software-based systems capable of managing thousands of calls simultaneously. This technological leap made robocalls an efficient method for reaching large audiences quickly and inexpensively.

Despite their legitimate uses, robocalls have also become notorious for being associated with scams. Scammers employ these calls to trick vulnerable individuals into revealing personal information or transferring money under false pretenses.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimated that fraudulent phone calls and texts have resulted in over $1.13 billion in losses across the United States. The rise of caller identification spoofing, which allows scammers to disguise their phone numbers, has further exacerbated the problem, making it difficult for recipients to discern the legitimacy of incoming calls.

AI and the New Wave of Robocalls

The use of AI in robocall technology has brought a new level of sophistication to these scams. With its capacity to replicate human cognitive functions, AI can create highly persuasive voices that are almost impossible to distinguish from real people. This advancement has led to the emergence of “voice cloning,” where AI mimics the voice of a trusted family member or a well-known celebrity. These AI-generated voices can be used to spread misinformation in deceptive scenarios, such as pretending to be a distressed relative or impersonating public figures.

One particularly alarming example occurred in New Hampshire before the 2024 Democratic primary election. Thousands of residents received robocalls that seemed to feature President Biden himself, urging them not to vote in the primary. This incident highlighted the potential of AI-generated voices to influence political outcomes and spread disinformation, raising significant concerns about the integrity of democratic processes.

The Legislative Response: The Robocall Transparency Bill (AB 2905)

In response to these emerging threats, AB 2905 suggests an important change to California’s current rules on automatic dialing-announcing devices. Presently, these devices are required to make a natural voice announcement before playing any prerecorded message. This bill aims to improve this by also requiring the natural voice announcement to indicate if the following message is generated using artificial intelligence.

This straightforward yet impactful measure guarantees that recipients can quickly determine whether they interact with a machine or a human. By mandating the disclosure of AI-generated messages, AB 2905 promotes transparency in robocalls and empowers individuals to make informed decisions when engaging.

Key Provisions of AB 2905

  1. Disclosure Requirement: The bill stipulates that any automated call using an AI-generated voice must begin with a natural voice announcement. This announcement must explicitly state that the forthcoming message contains AI-generated content.
  2. Definition of Terms: AB 2905 provides clear definitions to avoid ambiguity. An “artificial voice” is defined as a voice simulated or generated using AI. Additionally, “artificial intelligence” is described as an engineered system capable of generating outputs that influence physical or virtual environments based on the inputs it receives.
  3. Fiscal Impact: While the bill is recognized to have fiscal implications, specific details are not provided in the analysis.

Broader Context and Implications

The introduction of AB 2905 is part of a broader legislative effort to tackle the challenges posed by AI in various contexts. For instance, AB 2839 prohibits election-related communications containing digitally altered or created audio around election periods. Similarly, SB 942 and SB 970 seek to embed disclosures in AI-generated content and expand penalties for nonconsensual use of digital likenesses, respectively. These legislative measures reflect a growing awareness of the need to regulate AI technologies to protect consumers and uphold the integrity of public communication.

In Summary

As AI continues to permeate various aspects of our lives, we can’t overlook the possibilities for misuse. The rise of AI-generated robocalls represents a significant threat to both individual consumers and broader societal processes such as elections. AB 2905 is a proactive step by California to mitigate these risks by ensuring transparency in AI-driven communications. The bill empowers recipients to make informed decisions about the calls they receive by enhancing consumer protection and reinforcing trust in communication technologies. Such legislative efforts are crucial in balancing innovation with the imperative to safeguard public interests.

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