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Use of AI to Mimic Anthony Bourdain's Voice on a Documentary Causes a Stir

LOS ANGELES – A new documentary by filmmaker Morgan Neville about the late chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain has sparked controversy after he admitted artificial intelligence technology was used to emulate Bourdain’s voice in part of the film.

The new documentary, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” opens in theaters on Friday.

In the documentary, editors Eileen Meyer and Aaron Wickenden use narration by Bourdain pulled from audio clips, show outtakes, video interviews and audiobooks. But, when asked how he obtained some quotes from Bourdain in a new article in the New Yorker, Neville told writer Helen Rosner that artificial intelligence was used to create three quotes with Bourdain’s voice.

“I created an AI model of his voice,” Neville said. He added: “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know.”

But film critics, documentary filmmakers and others voiced their displeasure about the news on Twitter.

Bourdain’s widow Ottavia Bourdain responded to Neville’s comment that Bourdain’s family had given their blessings to the use of AI by going on Twitter saying, “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.”

Critic Sean Burns wrote, “When I wrote my review I was not aware that the filmmakers had used an A.I. to deepfake Bourdain’s voice for portions of the narration. I feel like this tells you all you need to know about the ethics of the people behind this project.”


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