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How AI is used to resurrect dead Indian politicians as elections loom

Bengaluru, India – On January 23, an icon of Indian cinema and politics, M Karunanidhi appeared before a live audience on a large projected screen, to congratulate his 82-year-old friend and fellow politician TR Baalu on the launch of his autobiographical book.

Dressed in his trademark black sunglasses, white shirt, and a yellow shawl around his shoulders — Karunanidhi’s style was spot on. In his eight-minute speech, the veteran poet-turned-politician congratulated the book’s author but was also effusive in his praise for the able leadership of MK Stalin, his son and the current leader of the state.

Karunanidhi has been dead since 2018. This was the third time, in the past six months, that the iconic leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party was resurrected using artificial intelligence (AI) for such public events.

“When the COVID pandemic ravaged the world, our Chief Minister ran in the direction of panicked voices of people,” Karunanidhi said. “The nation knows the way you fought to save the lives of people, and so do I.”

Senthil Nayagam, founder of Muonium, the AI media tech firm that made the deepfake Karunanidhi video, told Al Jazeera that “there is a market opening up [for such deepfakes]…. You can attribute some statements to a particular person and that kind of gives more value to it”.

AI Karunanidhi’s first public appearance was at a local media event last year in September, which was followed up by another for a campaign by his party members. The resurrected leader often felicitates party workers and specifically praises the leadership of his son MK Stalin — with the aim of boosting his popularity.

At the January book launch, AI Karunanidhi recounted everything from pardoning student debt and cash