AI is not the blockchain or the metaverse. Despite feeling like a new tech buzzword, the immediate, practical applications of AI have exploded a number of industries, from education to creative work, and usually in…kind of bad ways, ripping everything from text to art to likenesses and rearranging it into something that is not technically illegal. Yet.
But there are uses of AI that are proving to be more than black and white. While actors, and especially voice actors, have protested their performances and voices being fed into AI against their will, we are now seeing an example of this being done, with permission, in a very unique case.
Cyberpunk 2077 voice actor Miłogost Reczek died in 2021. He played ripperdoc and V’s friend Viktor Vektor in the game. Vektor was a returning character for Cyberpunk 2077’s Phantom Liberty expansion. Not a major part this time, but he had some significant lines, particularly in one ending, so more voicework was needed.
CDPR originally thought they may replace him in the expansion and then go back and actually re-record his lines in the original for consistency’s sake but…no one really liked that idea, as it did not seem fair to his memory and his great performance.
So what to do? With advances in AI, Reczek’s performance could be recreated, but CDPR made sure they got permission from his family. His sons were “very supportive” of the idea, according to a Bloomberg report.
“This way we could keep his performance in the game and pay tribute to his wonderful performance as Viktor Vektor,” CD Projekt localization director Mikołaj Szwed said.
The process was done using Respeecher, where a new actor performs the lines, then they are modified using AI to sound like Reczek based on samples of his past work.
While this is a somewhat heartwarming use of AI in the end, a way to honor a man who couldn’t finish his final performance, with full permission from his family, the larger use of AI in entertainment media remains a blisteringly hot stove.
The Writers Guild just secured a bunch of anti-AI language in their contracts, but it is supposedly one of the remaining sticking points in the SAG-AFTRA negotiations, where studios want actors to sign over their likeness rights to be used in future projects through AI. Similarly, video game voice actors are alarmed at the use of products like Respeecher to reproduce their voices without their permission, which is essentially…every other instance besides this story.
Even Cyberpunk actors have had this happen to them. I found a Starfield mod which uses AI to recreate 4,000 lines of dialogue from Andreja to sound like Cherami Leigh, female V from Cyberpunk. I believe it’s since been taken down, but the fact that something like that could be made at all, and by just one fan no less, is stunning.
So, I am glad to see this used to honor Reczek, but the larger conversations about AI in this industry are only just getting started, and it feels like it will be far more bad stories than good when it comes to the tech.