A documentary filmmaker’s use of human voice cloning software to make the late Chief Anthony Bourdain say words he never spoke has drawn criticism over ethical concerns over the use of the powerful technology.

The film Roadrunner : A Film About Anthony Bourdain (Journeys of a Chef: A Film About Anthony Bourdain) appeared in theaters on Friday and mostly features live footage of the celebrity chef and globe-trotting TV host before his death in 2018. But his director, Morgan Neville, told the New Yorker that a dialogue snippet was created using the technology ofartificial intelligence.

This has reignited a debate about the future of voice cloning technology, not only in the entertainment world, but also in politics and a rapidly growing business sector dedicated to transforming text into realistic human speech.

“Unapproved voice cloning is a slippery slope,” said Andrew Mason, founder and CEO of Descript voice generator, in a blog post Friday. “As soon as you step into a world where you make a subjective judgment on the ethics of particular cases, you move closer to a world where anything is possible. “

Prior to this week, public controversy mostly revolved around the creation of hard-to-detect hyper-trickery using audio and video simulations and their potential to fuel disinformation and political conflict.

But Mr Mason, who previously founded and ran Groupon, said in an interview that Descript has repeatedly rejected requests to bring back to life a human voice, including from “people who have lost a loved one and are grieving. “.

“It’s not even really that we want to pass judgment,” he said. We’re just saying you need to have clear lines in what’s right and what isn’t. “

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The reactions of anger and unease over voice cloning in the documentary about chef Anthony Bourdain reflect the expectations and issues of disclosure and consent, argued Sam Gregory, program director at Witness, an organization in nonprofit working on the use of video technology to advance human rights. Obtaining consent and disclosing the technology in question would have been appropriate, he argued. Instead, viewers were stunned – first by the fact of the audio faking, then by the director’s apparent rejection of any ethical issues – and expressed their displeasure online.

“It also touches on our fears about death and our ideas of how people could take control of our digital likeness and have us say or do things with no way to prevent it,” Mr. Gregory.

Director Morgan Neville did not specify the tool he used to recreate Mr Bourdain’s voice, but said it was resorted to for a few sentences the chef wrote, but never said out loud. voice.

“With the blessing of its Literary and Heritage Officer, we have used AI technology,” Neville said in a statement. “It was a modern storytelling technique that I used in a few places where I felt it was important to bring Tony’s words to life,” he added.

Mr. Neville also told GQ magazine that he had obtained the approval of Mr. Bourdain’s widow and executor. The chef’s wife, Ottavia Busia, responded on Twitter: “I was definitely NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with this. “

While tech giants like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have dominated text-to-speech search, there are now also a number of startups like Descript that offer voice cloning software. Uses include customer service chats, video games and podcasting.

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Many of these voice cloning companies feature an ethics policy on their website that explains the terms of use. Of nearly a dozen companies contacted by The Associated Press, many said they did not recreate the voice of Chief Bourdain and would not have done so if asked. Others did not respond.

“We have pretty strict policies regarding what can be done on our platform,” said Zohaib Ahmed, founder and CEO of Resemble AI, a Toronto-based company that sells an intelligence voice generator service. artificial custom. “When you create a voice clone, it requires the consent of the individual. “

Mr Ahmed said the rare occasions he allowed posthumous voice cloning were for academic research, including a project working with the voice of Winston Churchill, who died in 1965.

He pointed out that a more common commercial use was to edit a TV commercial recorded by real actors and then customize it to suit a region by adding a local citation.

Mr. Neville is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker who also portrayed Fred Rogers Won’t You Be My Neighbor ? and the Oscar winner 20 Feet From Stardom. He began directing his last film in 2019, more than a year after Mr. Bourdain’s death by suicide in June 2018.

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