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Eric Adams

We Had to Threaten to Sue the Mayor to Get This Audio of His Robot Clone Speaking Yiddish

Hell Gate's Freedom of Information request turned up AI-generated recordings of the mayor speaking Yiddish, Haitian Creole, and Spanish.

Eric Adams at a press conference with C-3PO's head atop his face.

(Illustration: Hell Gate)

When reports first surfaced last October of New Yorkers receiving robocalls from someone identifying themselves as Eric Adams but speaking in languages that Eric Adams doesn't speak, it touched off a whole mini news cycle. Yes, City Hall confirmed, the administration had contracted with a company to create artificial intelligence-generated approximations of the mayor's voice for the purpose of sending informational robocalls.

In the age of proliferating deepfakes and growing concern they might be used to ratfuck what's left of our electoral democracy, some people expressed concern that the mayor was willfully smudging the line between Things Public Officials Actually Said in Real Life and…everything else.

Adams, for his part, seemed blithely unconcerned about this. "You cannot be afraid of technology because of the abusiveness of it," he said. "I hear it throughout my streets in this city, that 'I don't feel that government communicates to me in a language that I speak.' We found a way to properly use artificial intelligence to do that." People love hearing Eric Adams, Eric Adams said, but it took an Eric Adams to figure out how government could give them that voice in their native language. "And I walk around sometimes and people turn around and say, 'I just know that voice. That voice is so comforting that I enjoy hearing your voice.' Now they're able to hear my voice in their language." And that, at the time, seemed to be that—the press corps quickly moved on to other, perhaps more pressing, matters concerning the Adams administration (including, a few months later, the revelation that another AI initiative of the Adams administration, an automated small business advice line, was serving up extremely terrible and frequently illegal advice).

Except nobody—except the intended audience—had actually heard the cyborg mayor speaking Yiddish, or say, Haitian Creole. Indeed, with the exception of one robocall in Spanish published by the New York Times, the whole brouhaha came and went without the actual audio in question being made public. We wanted to hear what these calls sounded like, so Hell Gate filed a Freedom of Information Law request for all recordings made using artificial intelligence to simulate the mayor's voice, as well as any contracts made to produce these recordings and any communications between City Hall staff and outside contractors involved in the production of the recordings. (City officials told the Times that the robocall initiative had cost about $32,000, and developing the small business chatbot had cost about $600,000.)

City Hall stalled for so long in producing anything, twice extending its own deadline, that our lawyers had to send them a letter alerting them that the Mayor's Office was violating the law and reminding them that we've already sued them once for withholding documents.

That got a response. In short order, City Hall coughed up some recordings, and we are now able to present to you:

AI Eric Adams speaking Yiddish to announce a municipal hiring hall:

AI Eric Adams speaking Spanish with an accent rivaling the majesty of Bloomberg to do the same, as previously published by the Times:

AI Eric Adams speaking Spanish with a better accent to announce a concert series:

Eric Adams speaking Spanish to discuss J'ouvert preparations:

Eric Adams speaking Haitian Creole to talk about J'ouvert preparations:

Some of these kind of sound like Eric Adams! Pretty cool! (Or bad for public trust in government and empirical reality, depending on your perspective.)

Having turned over five audio files, City Hall promptly closed our records request, evidently ignoring our request for any contract and communications with the company that made the clips. It's also not at all clear that City Hall turned over all the audio files—reports from last fall suggested a call went out in Mandarin, but that file is missing from the tranche of recordings sent over by the mayor's team.

Will Hell Gate have to sue City Hall again so our readers can hear a digital mayoral impersonator speaking Mandarin Chinese and find out for certain just what this all cost us? Stay tuned.

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