Director Morgan Neville faced skepticism and outright revulsion on social media this month when it was revealed he used artificial intelligence to create a model of Bourdain's voice for 45 seconds of narration in the new documentary "Roadrunner," about the life and 2018 death by suicide of the beloved chef and journalist.
Bourdain's voice was one of his trademarks, known to fans the world over from his TV travelogues "Parts Unknown" and "No Reservations." Fans also loved how authentic he seemed, always able to level with the viewer. Faking his voice, to some, was a step too far.
"In the end I understood this technique was boundary-pushing," Neville said. "But isn't that Bourdain?"
Yet the boundaries have already been pushed far beyond Bourdain's legacy or the mere confines of documentarian ethics. The voice imitation revolution is already here, and artists, technologists and companies in several industries who use the new tech are grappling with the big question of what happens when you separate speech from the speaker.
Need a synthetic voice that can read text for the visually impaired? A human voice actor can't preread every possible sentence in the world but an AI-built voice could cope. Have a video game that's been in interminable production for years and want to avoid hauling in voice actors for rerecording every time there's a script change? Tweak their dialogue in production.