Peabody Awards via Flickr
Putting the AI in Bourdain

New Anthony Bourdain Documentary Used AI to Recreate His Voice

byVictor Tangermann

"We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later."

Roadrunner

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville’s latest documentary is about the life of the legendary author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, who tragically died by suicide back in 2018.

To fill in some of the gaps, The New Yorker reports, Neville used artificial intelligence to recreate Bourdain’s voice for three different quotes in his documentary, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” which hit theaters today.

It’s an arguably slightly ghoulish use of technology to bring the dead back to life — especially considering the AI was used to flesh out the story of Bourdain’s life leading up to his tragic death.

AI Bourdain

Fortunately, while the voiceover during parts of the documentary is computer generated, the quotes aren’t.

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“I created an AI model of his voice,” Neville admitted to the magazine, explaining that “there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of.”

He provided a software company with about a dozen hours of recordings of Bourdain’s voice to create the model.

According to the filmmaker, the simulated, disembodied voice of the late celebrity travel documentarian is almost impossible to tell apart from the real thing.

“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,” Neville told The New Yorker.

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Regarding the obvious dystopian overtones and implications of recreating the voice of dead celebrities, Neville isn’t too concerned — at least for right now.

“We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later,” he quipped.

READ MORE: A Haunting New Documentary About Anthony Bourdain [The New Yorker]

More on deepfakes: Russia Accused of Using Deepfakes to Imitate Political Rivals

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