New CNN Films documentary on Anthony Bourdain makes noise after it was revealed the filmmaker used artificial intelligence technology to mimic the voice of the late celebrity chef, leading some to voice ethical concerns regarding the use of deepfakes.
Roadrunner: a film about Anthony Bourdain, which opened in theaters on Friday, uses AI to simulate the voice of Anthony Bourdain reading passages from email correspondence. Director Morgan Neville acknowledged the digital sleight of hand after The new yorker‘s Helen Rosner asked him how he found an audio recording of Bourdain reading from his own email.Neville told the magazine, “If you watch the movie, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what other lines that the AI said, and you won’t know. We can have a documentary ethics panel on this later.
His seemingly unapologetic response has sparked backlash among journalists and other documentary filmmakers who question the ethics of deepfake technology.
Bourdain’s estate has reportedly lit up a handful of AI line readings for a new documentary about him, and it’s yet another ethically uncomfortable step in the growing arena of holographic and CGI performance of those who no longer have a say. to say about their own heritage or representation. https://t.co/91ld9QeDRv
– Minovsky (@MinovskyArticle) July 15, 2021
I used to write little scripts for Tony for @roadsandkingdoms, and yo, he was VERY SPECIFIC about what he would say on the mic and how he would say it. It was always a little dangerous trying to put words in this man’s mouth. So here is: #BourdainAI is a very bad idea.
– Nathan Thornburgh (@thornburgh) July 16, 2021
When I wrote my review, I had no idea that the filmmakers had used an AI to tamper with Bourdain’s voice for parts of the storytelling. I feel like this tells you everything you need to know about the ethics of the people behind this project. https://t.co/7s1mdDOfzl pic.twitter.com/zv2pEvtTim
– Sean Burns (@SeanMBurns) July 15, 2021
In a statement to Deadline, Neville claimed he was given permission to recreate Bourdain’s voice.
“There were a few sentences Tony wrote that he never said out loud. With the blessing of his real estate and literary agent, we used AI technology. 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.
Ottavia Bourdain, the ex-wife of the late chef who would be the executor of his estate, refused to allow the production to simulate the voice of Anthony Bourdain.
I was definitely NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with this. https://t.co/CypDvc1sBP
– Octavia (@OttaviaBourdain) July 16, 2021
Deepfake videos have become commonplace online and on social media thanks to free deepfake software tools. But they have raised concern among politicians and celebrities who fear malicious videos will be created to hurt careers. Some even fear that deepfakes are being used by hostile countries to deceive American citizens and destabilize the United States.
Roadrunner: a film about Anthony Bourdain was produced by CNN Films, which is a division of CNN. The documentary is slated to air on HBO Max later this year and will also air on CNN on an unspecified date.
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