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Artificial Intelligence Brought Anthony Bourdain’s Voice Back To Life. Should It Have?

Anthony Bourdain pictured in his restaurant kitchen during his younger years, in a still shot from the new 'Roadrunner' documentary.

Writer and critic Jason Sheehan, who reviewed Roadrunner for NPR before its use of AI became public, says he isn’t entirely sure how to feel. “I mean, is it all that different than Ken Burns having Sam Waterston read Abraham Lincoln’s letters in his Civil War documentary? Neville claims that he used Bourdain’s own words — things that he’d written or said that just didn’t exist on tape — and that matters,” Sheehan says. “If Burns had asked Waterston to make Lincoln say how much he loved the new Subaru Outback, then sure. That’s a problem. But this isn’t that. This is the (admittedly queasy) choice to bring back to life the voice of a dead guy, and make that voice speak words that already existed in another form. Is it creepy, knowing about it now? Absolutely. Was it wrong? I don’t think so. But these things are decided in public. It’ll get hashed out on social media and in spaces like this. And then we’ll move on, all of us having been forced to briefly consider the possibility of an endless zombie future where nothing we’ve ever said or written ever really goes away.”

In response to some of the criticism he was getting, Neville responded, saying to Variety that “There were a few sentences that Tony wrote that he never spoke aloud. With the blessing of his estate and literary agent we used AI technology. It was a modern storytelling technique that I used in a few places where I thought it was important to make Tony’s words come alive.”

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