New Anthony Bourdain documentary deepfakes his voice

In a new documentary, Roadrunner, about the life and tragic death of Anthony Bourdain, there are a few lines of dialogue in Bourdain’s voice that he might not have ever said out loud.

Filmmaker Morgan Neville used AI technology to digitally re-create Anthony Bourdain’s voice and have the software synthesize the audio of three quotes from the late chef and television host, Neville told the New Yorker.

The deepfaked voice was discovered when the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner asked how the filmmaker got a clip of Bourdain’s voice reading an email he had sent to a friend. Neville said he had contacted an AI company and supplied it with a dozen hours of Bourdain speaking.

“ … and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” Bourdain wrote in an email, and an AI algorithm later narrated an approximation of his voice.

You can hear the line in the documentary’s trailer linked below, right around the 1:30 mark. The algorithm’s generation of Bourdain’s voice is especially audible when it says, “and I am successful.”

Neville told Rosner that there were three lines of dialogue that he wanted Bourdain’s voice to orate, but he couldn’t find previous audio to string together or make it work otherwise.

There’s no shortage of companies that can achieve this kind of AI voice replication, and there’s actually a burgeoning industry of companies that can specifically generate voices for video game characters or allow you to clone your own voice.

But whether it’s ethical to clone a dead person’s voice and have them say things they hadn’t gotten on tape when they were alive is another question, and one Neville doesn’t seem too concerned with.

“We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later,” he told the New Yorker.

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