U.S. Briefs: Artificial intelligence enables cruel scam
Scammers replicate recordings of a Washington teen’s voice to trick family members
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Pierce County authorities issued a warning on May 10 about an artificial intelligence–generated scam involving voice cloning. Scammers need only a short clip of a person’s voice online to replicate it and trick family members into believing a loved one is in trouble. One local couple received a phone call from someone who sounded just like their 16-year-old daughter. She told them she had been in a car crash. What ensued was “20 minutes of hell,” the girl’s mother, Heidi, told KIRO 7. A man got on the phone with Heidi and demanded ransom money, while her husband raced to Walmart, where the voice said the crash occurred. Heidi realized it was a scam when the man asked for a wire transfer and her daughter responded to a text message, confirming she was in school. The Federal Trade Commission warned last March that scammers are using AI for more sophisticated schemes. “Don’t trust the voice,” the warning said. “Call the person who supposedly contacted you and verify the story.” —Mary Jackson
Fast-food chain Wendy’s on May 9 announced a partnership with Google Cloud to train an artificial intelligence chatbot to take drive-thru orders. The company will pilot the technology, called FreshAI, in June at a company-owned restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. About 75 to 80 percent of Wendy’s customers prefer to use the drive-thru, according to the chain. Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said implementing AI in a drive-thru is challenging because menus are complex and orders can be customized. Several other restaurant chains also have tested AI programs in their drive-thru locations. The National Restaurant Association said restaurants are using AI technology to trim labor costs and allow employees to focus on preparing orders. —Lauren Canterberry
New England fishermen must drastically reduce the number of haddock they catch this year. In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration added haddock stock in the Gulf of Maine to its “overfishing” list. The New England Fishery Management Council, a regulatory body, lowered catch quotas for haddock by 84 percent for the fishing year that started May 1. Local fishermen don’t think haddock are overfished and worry about the financial implications of the reduced quota. “With this significant cut that is coming, that’s a major gut punch,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. But U.S. consumers are unlikely to notice haddock shortages because most of it is imported. —Emma Freire
Researchers have discovered Civil War–era graves submerged 70 miles off Key West, near Fort Jefferson. The National Park Service announced the discovery May 1. The United States began building the fort in 1846 to curb piracy in the Caribbean. Yellow fever outbreaks in the 1860s threatened the fort’s residents, so doctors quarantined patients on remote sand islands, which were susceptible to shrinking, shifting, and, in rare cases, sinking. Archaeology student Devon Fogarty found laborer John Greer’s 1861 sandstone gravestone during a 2022 research dive that also exposed the foundation of a possible hospital. “We knew that there are cemeteries out there … but we didn’t expect anything to be preserved,” Fogarty said. National Park Service maritime archaeologist Josh Marano says the discovery of the grave and sunken island in the Dry Tortugas National Park highlights the potential for untold stories of the employed and enslaved workers who built the fort over three decades. —Amy Lewis
Starting July 1, women can get a prescription for birth control medication from pharmacies in the Hoosier State. The new law, signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb on May 1, allows women to skip a doctor visit, temporarily. Twenty other states, including California, Colorado, and Virginia, already have similar measures. The law requires pharmacists to examine patients and review their medical history before writing a prescription. But the prescription can only last six months, and patients must see a doctor within a year. The law also provides a religious exemption for pharmacists who object to birth control. State Rep. Rita Fleming, a Democrat, told CBS Indy the law may have gained support from Republican lawmakers because of abortion restrictions passed last summer, currently under review at the state high court. Fleming said a similar birth control law in Colorado decreased unplanned pregnancies. —Elizabeth Russell
An app to validate COVID-19 vaccination status cost New York 25 times more than projected, according to a recent investigation by Albany’s Times Union. The Excelsior Pass—designed by IBM and two consulting firms—carried an original price tag of $2.5 million. But the project has since ballooned to $64 million—a result of relaxed pandemic-era oversight. New York amended contracts for the Excelsior Pass development, but the state comptroller’s office doesn’t have records of those changes because an executive order froze its review of disaster-relief contracts. The state attorney general’s office is currently investigating $200 million paid to Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte—including $28 million for their work on the Excelsior Pass. Gov. Kathy Hochul restored comptroller oversight in December 2022, but the Excelsior Pass continues to run up a tab. In March, New York paid $2.2 million toward app development along with an ongoing $200,000 monthly fee for data storage. —Grace Snell
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