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Anthony Bourdain documentary uses A.I. version of chef’s voice

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A new documentary about Anthony Bourdain, who died in 2018, includes an artificial intelligence version of the chef’s voice, raising ethical concerns for some fans. 

“Roadrunner” director Morgan Neville said in an interview with The New Yorker that he used Bourdain’s voice from several sources, including TV, radio and podcasts, to narrate the film. However, he wanted to use three quotes that there were no recordings of – one of them being a part where the “Parts Unknown” host reads an email he wrote. 

Neville told the magazine he and his team compiled together about 12 hours worth of recordings and handed it over to a software company, which recreated his 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 A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville told New Yorker writer Helen Rosner. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

Neville explained his decision to use A.I. in GQ and said he checked in with Bourdain’s literary executor and widow.

“They were like, Tony would have been cool with that,” he said. “I wasn’t putting words into his mouth. I was just trying to make them come alive.”

Neville said he did not interview Asia Argento, Bourdain’s girlfriend at the time of his death. Bourdain’s ex-wife, Ottavia Bourdain, responded to Neville’s remarks, saying she was “NOT the one who said Tony would been cool with that.” 

Anthony Bourdain attends the Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

Emma McIntyre / Getty Images

Some fans were upset over the use of the A.I.-manufactured voice for the film. Screenwriter Ashley Lynch tweeted that it’s so “ethically f****d up on so many levels and is really gross.” 

“Anthony Bourdain already had so many good insights and quotable lines why would you feel the need to falsify material?” one Twitter user said.  

“I definitely disagree with this for one reason. Anthony was not an actor that you could feed lines to and he’d recite them. He had original thoughts that he expressed in his own way,” another Twitter user said. 

Bourdain died by suicide three years ago at the age of 61. “Roadrunner” explores the complexity elicited by the life and death of the famed chef and TV personality. Neville told “CBS Sunday Morning” earlier this month that the film aims to help fans of his grieve. 

“I hope the film in some way gets people to start to think of him as a whole person again, to at least process some aspect of his death, but also his life,” he said. 



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