The new Anthony Bourdain documentary ‘Roadrunner’ leans partly on deepfaked audio


On July 16th, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain will open in US theatres. Like many documentaries, the film pieces together archival footage, including interviews and show outtakes, to attempt to tell the story of its subject in their own words. It also includes words Bourdain never spoke to a camera before his death by suicide in 2018, and yet you’ll hear his voice saying them.

In an interview with , the film’s director, Morgan Neville, said there were three quotes he wanted Bourdain to narrate where there were no recordings, and so he recreated them with software instead. “I created an AI model of his voice,” he told the magazine.

It appears that was no easy feat either. In a separate , Neville said he contacted four different companies about the project before deciding on the best one. That company fed about a dozen hours of audio to an AI model. A lot of the work involved deciding the exact tone of Bourdain’s voice Neville wanted the software to replicate since the way the author and travel host narrated his writing changed so much over the years he was on TV.

Compared to some of the other ways we’ve seen AI and deepfakes used to trick people, this isn’t the worst example, but the ethics of it are still questionable. The film, as far as we’re aware, doesn’t include a disclosure that AI was used to replicate Bourdain’s voice. “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. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.” In his interview with GQ, he said Bourdain’s family told him “Tony would have been cool with that,” adding, “I was just trying to make [the quotes] come alive,”

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