With advances in artificial intelligence (AI), American comedians who lend their voices to cartoons and video games are worried about their future and made it known at Comic-Con in San Diego. The famous Californian festival dedicated to pop culture is taking place this year in the midst of a strike in Hollywood, where screenwriters and actors are demanding better remuneration but also guarantees for their profession, which they consider threatened by the arrival of AI in creation.
Dubbing actors are at the forefront, as technology now makes it possible to use a real voice to have a machine read - often without the consent of the original actor - other dialogue, with the right timbre. Tim Friedlander, the founder of the National Association of dubbing actors, gives the example of this actor who was thanked after three years of work in a company. “They told him: we have three years of your voice, we will just create a synthetic replica of your voice with what we have,” he told reporters.
The problem is not only with the industry. In recent years, many fans have used AI to clone well-known voices and make them say other things, often of a pornographic nature. “I have children. I don't want my voice saying certain things and my kids hearing it and wondering if it's something I said right," said actress Cissy Jones, who lends her voice to the animated series Luz in Osville. But according to Zeke Alton, whose voice appears in the video game The Callisto Protocol, the actors don't want to completely ban AI from creation either. Either way, he says, "Pandora's box is open." "If you want to duplicate me or any actor, we must give our consent and we must be compensated" financially, he defends.
Artificial intelligence is one of the stumbling blocks in the ongoing negotiations between Hollywood studios and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), which joined the striking screenwriters on July 14. The actors accuse the studios of not taking their concerns seriously over the assumption of “replacing most of their work with digital replicas”. For their part, the studios said on Friday that they had offered to establish rules for informed consent and fair compensation and that the union had not responded. For Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief negotiator for SAG-AFTRA, the studios would like to “bury” these AI consent clauses “in a sentence in the middle of a 12-page contract”. Voice actors are “at the forefront” of the AI debate, he warned, with changes “happening faster for voice actors than in any other field.”
For example, studios are exploring AI to dub dialogue in foreign languages, which would deprive comedians around the world of valuable work for their local markets. Another concern: that the studios can use “synthesized” voices merging several human voices, without paying the original actors.
Voice theft: Dubbing goes to war against artificial intelligence
Not all voice acting jobs are disrupted by the strike, as some are negotiated under separate collective agreements. For example, the ongoing strike paralyzes all activity for character voices in animated movies or series, trailers, or adding dialogue for secondary actors in movie or TV scenes - also known as post-sync or "looping". On the other hand, voices used for video games fall under a separate agreement, for which negotiations are still ongoing, and can therefore be used without breaking the strike. But, warns Zeke Alton, "what happens in this strike will impact not just the acting profession, but all professions."