In a targeted attack on phone spammers, the FCC just outlawed AI voice generation for robocalls

LOS ANGELES - JULY 3: The movie "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", (alt: T2) directed by James Cameron. Seen here from left, Arnold Schwarzenegger (as the Terminator, a T-800 Model) and Edward Furlong (as John Connor). They use a public payphone. Theatrical wide release July 3, 1991. Screen capture. Paramount Pictures. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

AI-generated voices can be good, or they can be bad—as Witcher voice actor Doug Cockle said, it really all comes down to the intent of the user. How to effectively address the potential for misuse is a big question, but the US Federal Communications Commission has now taken a step to crack down on at least one avenue of misuse by outlawing AI-generated voices in robocalls.

Robocalls are automated phone calls that play a pre-recorded message, commonly used for telemarketing or political campaigns. They're an aggravation at the best of times, but the rise of AI makes them especially dangerous because instead of a random voice, a person might hear Clint Eastwood, Gregory Peck, or US president Joe Biden. That last one actually happened in January, when a fake-Biden-voiced robocall went out to more than 20,000 people, urging Democrats not to vote.

Scamming people over the telephone is obviously illegal, but the FCC's new rule makes the act of using AI to generate the voices used in robocalls itself illegal. The agency said the new regulation expands "the legal avenues through which state law enforcement agencies can hold these perpetrators accountable under the law."

"Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities, and misinform voters. We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in the announcement of the new rule. "State Attorneys General will now have new tools to crack down on these scams and ensure the public is protected from fraud and misinformation."

The declaratory ruling was made under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which allows for fines of $500 to $1,500 per violation—which is to say, per call. As you might imagine, that can add up in a hell of a hurry: In August 2023, the FCC levied a $300 million fine on the perpetrators of an auto warranty robocall scam that made more than five billion robocalls to more than 500 million phone numbers in a three month span.

I'm always a little bit leery of "more regulation" because, just like AI, it can lead to bad results if misused. In this case I think it's definitely warranted, but how much of a deterrent the new regulation will be remains to be seen. Two of the "central players" in the auto warranty robocall scam had already been banned for life from making telemarketing calls by the US Federal Trade Commission and the state of Texas.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.