Concerns over effect AI voices could have on entertainment industry

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From South Park’s Eric Cartman powering through heartfelt ballads to country legend Johnny Cash singing Aqua’s Barbie Girl, the world of AI has created a new trend – the AI song cover.

The comedic videos, mostly shared through platforms like TikTok, have become a popular meme over recent months.

The technology has now reached a point where the vocals on the tracks sound realistic, recreating vocal inflexions precisely, making the videos funnier.

While the technology is mostly used for comedy at the moment, its fast development is beginning to shape the entertainment industry’s future.

In recent films and TV shows, AI is frequently being used to de-age older actors’ faces and voices, which has created quite an uncanny experience for audiences.

The Beatles are set to release their “final song” with AI pulling vocals from a John Lennon demo to bring the dead singer back from the dead.

Harrison Ford was made young again in the latest Indiana Jones film thanks to machine learning tools.

A de-aged Harrison Ford.

It seems AI has sparked a revolution in visual effects and audio production.

But for those working in the industry, the technology has opened a Pandora’s box of ethical questions relating to a performer’s right to their own “digital likeness”.

Currently, the SAG-AFTRA actors strike in Hollywood is calling for greater restrictions on synthetic AI performances and for performers to revere royalties every time their digital likeness is used in media.

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, centre, pose with SAG-AFTRA members during a press conference announcing a strike by The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

They’re concerned that the rapid development of AI technology could lead to fewer jobs in the industry.

Speaking to 1News, Denise Roche, director of New Zealand’s actor’s union Equity NZ, said the fast development of AI technology is creating some challenges for performers.

“There is a concern about using or cloning vices and using them for both advertisements, but also the narration of documentaries or other types of films where you’re not using an image.

“There have been some attempts to do that.”

Denise Roche.

In their demands to studios, actors are asking for royalties for any time their digital likeness is used in a synthetic performance. This has been refused by studios, who say performers can be paid for a day of work where they’re likeness is scanned, but the union has rejected this.

“Where SAG-AFTRA are coming from is they want to see some parameters around and agreement around the use of it.”

They want employment law to catch up with technological development “so that you can get all the consent and all the payment issues sorted so that people can make a living from it”.

“The other area is around job protection around synthetic performances, like fully AI performances,” Roche said.

“We’re not saying we don’t have it, but if you’re gonna do it, it needs to be in agreement with the union.”

Roche also said AI’s development could make performance, particularly voice work, “less fulfilling”.

Toby Ricketts, an award-winning voice actor who has worked for a number of overseas companies, has had his voice cloned.

Toby Ricketts.

He is currently working with AI developers like Eleven Voices to replicate his voice for content creators to buy.

While his voice has been cloned without permission once before, it’s mostly done conceptually.

Rickett believes that AI is helpful for a lot of the voice performances that aren’t seen by the wider public, like workplace training videos.

“It will, and it has already replaced humans in a lot of areas, like workplace training videos and things like audiobooks.

“Getting an AI to read something is far more economical than using a voice artist, where it could take days to record something.”

But despite the technology’s massive advancements, “it doesn’t mean humans are out of the question”.

“For things like ads and narration, AI just can’t do the emotional stuff yet.

“Sometimes I’ll spend an hour in the studio trying to get one sentence correct, so it’s pretty un-ergonomic to have a programmer spend hours trying to fox a voice.”

He believes AI is likely to change the environment, especially for those just entering the industry.

“A lot of those entry-jobs, workplace voiceovers, and corporate stuff might dry up because of AI.

“But a lot of new jobs will also be created. People will start offering their voices for AI companies to use in development.

“There are so many possibilities going forward with the development of this technology.”

As technology continues to evolve, Ricketts said corporations will need to take an ethical approach when using someone’s voice or face.

“Ideally, companies will pay royalties every time someone’s voice is used.

“We just have to make sure everyone is treated fairly,” he said.

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