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Vancouver voice actors concerned about AI cloning voices without consent

Advances in artificial intelligence means software can generate accurate voice clones that sound just like the real thing, but that's putting some actors in a precarious position, including Vancouver's Bill Newton.

He recently found out his voice was cloned without his permission based on a project he was in years ago.

"My voice in particular, on one of the websites that stores AI models, has been used 481 times,” he said.

With an impressive vocal range, the performer, who is part of the Union of BC Performers and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists can be heard in big-name projects, including My Little Pony and Lego Marvel.

Fortunately, the unauthorized use of his voice hasn't impacted him booking gigs, but Newton and other artists wonder if it might in the future and what will happen to the quality of creative projects.

"There's a lot of corporations, producers, studios that will look at things and the savings they can make and consider it good enough – and that’s the last thing we want,” he said.

UBC Theatre and Film assistant professor Patrick Parra Pennefather, shared more of an optimistic view.

"The dominant use of these tools, thoug,h are for good and to benefit humanity,” he said, adding that AI can be used as a creative tool.

“I think the future is in individuals and organizations having more control over their own data,” he said. “How can it give you a demo of what you might sound like if you read the script?”

With the ease, affordability and proliferation of AI, performers wonder whether companies will outsource creative work to bots.

“As actors and performers, when we agree to put our faces, voices, names on things, we are aware of what that will become. AI takes that away. Suddenly, I can be used as a spokesperson for something that I am morally against,” said Newton.

Pennefather argues AI can’t mimic the nuances and true emotion of human speech and it also makes mistakes, but notes that the technology is getting smarter.

"Actors need to be really aware that the technology exists, but I’m going to say this to not just actors, but everybody – your voice can be cloned, mine can be cloned. All someone needs is a lot of recordings of that particular voice,” he explained.

With Hollywood writers on strike, many in the entertainment industry are keen to negotiate their contracts to account for the potential challenges posed by AI and to push for the implementation regulations and protections.

"There are a lot of policies that are being developed nationally and also internationally to take on these ethical dilemmas that AI is surfacing,” Pennefather said. Top Stories

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