New Orleans magician says he made AI Biden robocall for aide to challenger

<span>Joe Biden’s voice was imitated by AI in a call to New Hampshire voters discouraging them from voting in the state’s Democratic primary.</span><span>Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP</span>
Joe Biden’s voice was imitated by AI in a call to New Hampshire voters discouraging them from voting in the state’s Democratic primary.Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP
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A magician in New Orleans says he was the person who used artificial intelligence to create an audio recording of Joe Biden used in an infamous robocall and that he was paid by a consultant for the president’s primary challenger, Dean Phillips.

NBC News reported Paul David Carpenter, who holds multiple world records and also works as a hypnotist, provided it with text messages, call logs and payment documentation to back up his claims.

Related: Democrats sound alarm over AI robocall to voters mimicking Biden

Carpenter claimed he was hired by Steve Kramer, a consultant for Phillips’s campaign, to use AI to mimic Biden’s voice discouraging people from voting in New Hampshire’s 23 January primary.

“I created the audio used in the robocall [but] I did not distribute it,” Carpenter reportedly told NBC. “I was in a situation where someone offered me some money to do something and I did it.

“There was no malicious intent. I didn’t know how it was going to be distributed.”

The audio recording is currently under investigation by law enforcement officials, and prompted the US government to outlaw robocalls using AI-generated voices.

Carpenter told NBC it was “so scary” how easy it was for him to produce the fake audio, saying it took less than 20 minutes and cost him $1. In return, he was paid $150, as documented in Venmo payments from Kramer and his father, Bruce Kramer, that Carpenter reportedly supplied to NBC.

He also shared what he described as the original robocall audio file, which he manufactured with software from ElevenLabs, an AI firm that touts its ability to create a voice clone from existing speech samples.

NBC said Kramer, a veteran political operative, did not comment on Carpenter’s version of events and would soon publish an opinion piece that would “explain all”.

In a statement, Phillips’ campaign said it was “disgusted to learn that Mr Kramer is allegedly behind this call”.

“If it is true that Mr Kramer had any involvement in the creation of deepfake robocalls, he did so of his own volition, which had nothing to do with our campaign,” said the campaign’s press secretary, Katie Dolan.

“The fundamental notion of our campaign is the importance of competition, choice and democracy,” she added. “If the allegations are true, we absolutely denounce his actions.”

Federal Election Commission records show that in December and January, the Phillips campaign paid nearly $260,000 to Kramer, who once worked on the 2020 presidential campaign for Ye, formerly known as Kanye West.

NBC said it found no evidence to suggest the Minnesota congressman’s campaign had instructed Kramer to produce the audio or disseminate the robocall.

Carpenter describes himself as a “digital nomad artist”, and perhaps his biggest previous claim to fame was setting the world records for fastest straitjacket escape and most fork bends in under a minute.

“The only thing missing from the political circus is a magician, and here I am,” Carpenter joked.

Carpenter has no fixed address but lists himself as a resident of New Orleans. Videos and images online show him in the streets of the city’s famed French Quarter neighborhood.

New Hampshire authorities by 6 February issued cease-and-desist orders and subpoenas to two Texas companies believed to be linked to the robocall – Life Corporation, which investigators alleged was the robocall’s source, and Lingo Telecom, which they said transmitted it.

After news of the robocall became known, the Federal Communications Commission ruled unanimously to either fine companies using AI voices in their calls or block any service providers that carry them.

Phillips’ campaign has done little to affect Biden’s status as the presumptive Democratic nominee for November’s presidential election. On Thursday, the congressman floated the idea of running for the White House on a “unity ticket” with Nikki Haley, who was on track to lose the Republican primary to Biden’s presidential predecessor Donald Trump.

Edward Helmore contributed reporting