Oct 19, 2023 - Technology

AI revival of deceased actors' voices should still involve people, company says

Video game screenshot of a man wearing sunglasses, sitting in a room glowing with a red light

Cyberpunk 2077 supporting character Viktor Vektor. Screenshot: CD Projeket RED (captured by Axios)

A Ukrainian company that used AI to re-create a deceased actor's voice for the video game expansion Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty says their technology can transform the field of voice acting without leaving humans out of the process.

Why it matters: Advances in AI have alarmed voice actors who fear the technology could be used to eliminate their jobs.

  • But Respeecher, the firm that worked on Cyberpunk, says AI is best used to modify human voices rather than replace them.

Driving the news: Respeecher's work for Cyberpunk 2077 re-creates the voice of actor Miłogost "Miłek" Reczek, who performed the Polish voiceover for supporting character Viktor Vektor in the 2020 video game. Reczek died in 2021 prior to the recording of voice work for 2077's expansion, released last month.

  • The game's developers at CD Projekt RED chose not to recast the role and instead tapped Respeecher to re-create his voice by manipulating lines spoken by another actor.
  • "The new lines were performed by Janusz Zadura, who tried to emulate Miłek's style of speaking, after which we used Respeecher's algorithm to adjust these new recordings so that they emulated Miłek's voice," the game's localization director, Mikołaj Szwed, said in a statement to Axios.
  • CDPR received permission to do this from Reczek's sons, the studio said, and it credits three "synthetic speech artists," who helped manipulate Zadura's voice, in the game.

What they're saying: Respeecher CEO Alex Serdiuk told Axios, on a Zoom call from his office in Kyiv, that the company's projects are all "purely and completely ethical."

  • He emphasized that Respeecher always ensures that it has permission to use the voice its AI is trained on. (In the Cyberpunk case, the original actor's family was not paid. "Miłek's family didn't want any compensation, they treated it all as tribute to their late family member," a studio rep told Axios.)
  • Serdiuk also is adamant about keeping people involved in the process. Today's text-to-speech systems that exclude people can't generate realistic enough AI-generated lines, he says.
  • "You cannot tell text-to-speech exactly what emotion you need," Serdiuk says. The way he sees it, human actors, recording the lines that the AI can then manipulate, are essential to providing that emotion.

Between the lines: Respeecher has worked extensively on TV shows and movies, using its approach to offer a younger voice for Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker in a Star Wars show on Disney+ and generating lines in the voice of basketball great Wilt Chamberlain in a documentary for Showtime.

  • Another video game project Respeecher can't detail involves using its tech for "scaling some very high-demand voices," Seriduk says. That means Respeecher will train an AI to transform the lines of one actor to make them sound like an actor who isn't available to record them, with the more popular actor's OK.

Yes, but: The use of AI to resurrect the voices of dead people has stirred concern by the SAG-AFTRA actors union and others, especially given risks it could be deployed without consent.

  • Actress Zelda Williams recently criticized AI-generated deep-fakes of her father, Robin Williams, who died in 2014.

What's next: While Respeecher's work initially involved resurrecting voices from the past, Serdiuk says it's pursuing more varied work now, as the use cases for its tech expands.

  • One wild idea: Making it possible for an actor's (or singer's) voice to be applied to dubs of their work in other languages, so that it sounds like they're fluent in all of them.

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