Anthony Bourdain Documentary Used AI To Fake His Voice

A new documentary about late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain utilized artificial intelligence to recreate his voice, spurring a debate about the ethics of this practice. 

In an interview with The New Yorker, Morgan Neville, the director of “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” said that he used AI to create a voiceover of Bourdain reading an email he’d written. 

“My life is sort of shit now,” Bourdain’s voice says in the film, reading an email Bourdain had written to his friend David Choe. “You are successful and I am successful and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”

Bourdain, who hosted CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” died by suicide in 2018 at age 61.

Neville told The New Yorker that he’d sent a software company hours of recordings of Bourdain’s voice, from TV, podcasts and other media, to create an AI version of his voice. He used this to have Bourdain’s “deepfake” voice express three quotes in the film that the late chef and TV host had never actually said out loud.

Some people raised concerns on social media about the ethics of using an artificially recreated voice ― and not telling viewers ― to depict Bourdain expressing things aloud that he never did in real life. 

Neville noted in his interview that the voiceover is so seamless that “you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know.” The filmmaker added: “We can have a documentary ethics panel about it later.”

After online backlash, the director told GQ that he checked with Bourdain’s widow and literary executor about his re-creation of the voice, “just to make sure people were cool with that; and they were like, Tony would have been cool with that.” 

Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, who was separated from Bourdain in 2016, tweeted in response: “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.” Bourdain was dating actress Asia Argento when he died. It’s unclear who Neville was referring to when he said he spoke to his widow.

Neville’s representatives did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment.

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Sarah Ruiz-Grossman