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Director uses artificial intelligence to generate Anthony Bourdain’s voice in documentary


The director of a documentary about Anthony Bourdain used artificial intelligence to recreate the late food critic and world traveler’s voice.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, which premieres Friday, supplements authentic recordings of Bourdain with artificial intelligence-generated audio of him speaking for three quotations.

“There were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” director Morgan Neville said. “I created an AI model of his voice.”

“If you watch the film … you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know,” Neville told the New Yorker.

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Critics said the move was unethical.

“This is fascinating — is it okay for a documentary film-maker to fabricate their own Anthony Bourdain audio for something he never said out loud?” asked journalist Mathew Ingram on Twitter.

“What feels creepy about this though is the lack of consent,” said Karen Hao, a fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer research center. “Whereas some actors may now have the option today to consent to having their voice reanimated when they’re gone, it really doesn’t sound like Anthony Bourdain got that luxury.”

Another critic said there was already plenty of material from Bourdain’s years on television from which to pull audio.

“It is so wild to do a documentary on someone like Bourdain, a subject with 10,000+ hours of recorded audio of his voice and writing to mine from for your film, and then decide to make a deepfake recreation of the few quotes you don’t have clips of,” wrote Vice reporter Josh Terry.

“We can have a documentary ethics panel about it later,” Neville said about the AI model.

The movie features a look at the life of Bourdain, who died by suicide on June 8, 2018, through a montage of interviews with friends and family and footage from his travels around the world.

“The TV Tony and the real Tony were not exactly the same person,” Neville said. “They never could be.”

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Roadrunner follows other documentary films Neville has made about cultural heavyweights, including blues legend Muddy Waters, country music patriarch Hank Williams, and Keith Richards, founding guitarist of the Rolling Stones.

The Best of Enemies, a film Neville directed about political nemeses William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal, was considered for an Academy Award for best documentary in 2015.





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