FTC unveils voice cloning challenge to combat AI fraud

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched its first-ever ‘Voice Cloning Challenge’ – including a $25K grand prize – all in an effort to combat the growing threat of AI-enabled voice cloning scams.

Update: The FTC began accepting submissions on January 2nd, 2024 and will continue to accept submissions online until January 12, 2024.

The consumer protection agency said the exploratory challenge is aimed at protecting both consumers and creative professionals from AI-enabled voice cloning harms, such as fraud and the broader misuse of biometric data and creative content.”

“Fraudsters are using AI-enabled voice cloning to defraud & extort Americans,” FTC Chair Lisa Kahn posted on X, announcing the challenge in November.

“Today @FTC launched a voice cloning challenge to spur ideas for how to prevent and detect voice cloning misuse,” she said.

The $25K Challenge

The premise of the challenge is to foster innovative ways to help prevent, monitor, and evaluate the malicious use of voice cloning technology, the FTC said.

The FTC will be accepting submissions from January 2nd though January 12th, 2024, awarding $25 thousand to the winner.

The runner-up will receive $4,000 and up to three honorable mentions will receive $2,000 each.

Submissions can encompass any “product, policy, or procedure,” but the FTC says they must include at least one of the following:

  • Prevention or authentication: It must provide a way to limit the use or application of voice cloning software by unauthorized users;
  • Real-time detection or monitoring: It must provide a way to detect cloned voices or the use of voice cloning technology; or
  • Post-use evaluation: It must provide a way to check if an audio clip contains cloned voices.

As a guideline, the FTC says submissions should also consider the ease of execution, who would be responsible and liable for its administration, and how resilient the idea would be in regard to rapid changes in technology.

The public contest is just one of many tools the FTC plans to use to hold bad actors accountable, ideally before frauds hit the consumer.

Other tools include legal enforcement actions under the FTC Act, such as the Telemarketing Sales Rule, as well as creating new policies that would combat deceptive voice cloning practices.

Additionally, the FTC recently proposed an ‘Impersonation Rule,’ which if implemented, would directly cover government and business impersonation scams.

More Information on how to submit a proposal can be found at the FTC challenge website.

AI Voice generator
Image by Linaimages | Shutterstock.

The future of AI-enabled voice

Voice cloning technology uses AI large language models to replicate the human voice – a task that machine learning can achieve with just a few second long voice clip.

As text-to-speech AI becomes more sophisticated, the technology can be developed even more for good and bad.

Voice cloning systems are generally built on large training sets composed of people’s real voices, the FTC explains.

The problem is that many of these systems are either commercially available and open sourced, allowing cybercrooks to easily access the data, and use it to replicate a specific voice.

Cloned voices could be used to target, defame, and extort individuals, families, businesses, and deceive the public as a whole, according to the FTC.

Furthermore, creative artists can have their voices easily appropriated violating intellectual property rights and threatening their livelihoods.

But its not all harmful. For example, in the medical industry, AI-enabled voice technology is expected to change the lives peoples whose voices have been affected by accident or health reasons.

Besides medical applications, the technology will be used to generate even more lifelike AI voice assistants and even to preserve the voices of those who've passed.

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