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Stephen Fry says his agents ‘went ballistic’ over AI impersonation of his voice: ‘It shocked me’

Stephen Fry has issued a warning against Artificial Intelligence (AI) after discovering that his voice had been impersonated by machine learning.

The 66-year-old actor, author and narrator recently attended the CogX Festival in London where he showed the crowd a clip of his voice narrating a historical documentary.

“I said not one word of that – it was a machine,” Fry revealed, according to Fortune. “Yes, it shocked me. They used my reading of the seven volumes of the Harry Potter books, and from that dataset, an AI of my voice was created and it made that new narration.”

He continued: “What you heard was not the result of a mash-up. This is from a flexible artificial voice, where the words are modulated to fit the meaning of each sentence. It could therefore have me read anything from a call to storm Parliament to hard porn, all without my knowledge and without my permission. And this, what you just heard, was done without my knowledge.”

Fry added: “So I heard about this, I sent it to my agents on both sides of the Atlantic, and they went ballistic – they had no idea such a thing was possible.”

He cautioned over the technology: “Tech is not a noun, it is a verb, it is always moving. What we have now is not what will be. When it comes to AI models, what we have now will advance at a faster rate than any technology we have ever seen. One thing we can all agree on: It’s a f***ing weird time to be alive.”

AI is among the key issues up for debate between the actors’ and writers’ unions in their ongoing strikes against major Hollywood studios.

Stephen Fry (PA)
Stephen Fry (PA)

Over the last decade, AI has found several uses in the movie and television industry, from de-ageing actors, analysing patterns and behaviours of viewers on streaming platforms, bringing back the voices of late actors and even helping stitch together entire movie trailers.

Screenwriters are concerned that AI could be used to create a rough first draft with a few simple prompts and writers may then be hired after this first step to punch such drafts up – albeit at a lower pay rate.

Meanwhile, actors are concerned about the use of their likenesses in screen roles. In a recent interview, Tom Hanks suggested that AI could keep him appearing in films forever.

“I can tell you that there [are] discussions going on in all of the guilds, all of the agencies, and all of the legal firms in order to come up with the legal ramifications of my face and my voice – and everybody else’s – being our intellectual property,” Hanks said.

“I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s it, but my performances can go on and on and on. Outside of the understanding that it’s been done by AI or deep fake, there’ll be nothing to tell you that it’s not me and me alone, and it’s going to have some degree of lifelike quality.”