It’s an artificial life: Jimmy Stewart can now read you a bedtime story

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

You can’t get to sleep. You’re tossing and turning. You want someone to read you a nice, wholesome bedtime story. And you want that someone to be actor Jimmy Stewart.

The sleep and meditation app Calm on Tuesday released a new story for premium users told by Stewart, the beloved actor who starred in It’s a Wonderful Life. But the voice in their ear lulling them to sleep is not from Stewart, who died in 1997. It is a version of his signature drawl generated by artificial intelligence.

Jimmy Stewart died in 1997.

“Well, hello. I’m James Stewart, but, well, you can call me Jimmy. Tonight I’m going to tell you a story,” the clone of Stewart’s voice begins, telling listeners to make themselves “nice and comfortable.”

“It’s a heartwarming story of love, of loss, of hope and of joy,” the voice continues. “But most of all, it’s a wonderful sleep story.”

The app is known for its Sleep Stories — tales read by celebrities including Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey and Harry Styles to help users drift off to sleep. But for its Stewart story, it enlisted the help of Respeecher, a company based in Ukraine that uses AI technology to produce synthetic speech and clone voices.

The story, written by Calm’s creative team, is the first of its celebrity narrations to use an AI-generated voice, a spokesperson for the app said, adding that the company collaborated closely with the actor’s estate on the project. “Stewart is one of the most beloved actors in history, with a voice that is heartwarming to many,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Respeecher said that CMG Worldwide, the company that manages Stewart’s licensing, approved the project. CMG said in a statement: “The ability to replicate and integrate the unique voices of artists into contemporary works introduces a dynamic fusion of tradition and innovation.”

Similar projects might be on the way, the company added, saying it wanted to “bring many of the icons that we represent to a whole new generation of admirers,” according to Tina Xavie, its chief marketing officer.

“This technology not only allows for the continuation of the artistic contributions of those who have passed away but also provides living artists with new and groundbreaking avenues for expression,” the statement said.

To revive Stewart’s voice, Respeecher fed recordings of the actor into its system to train it to recognise the voice. It then combined it with that of a voice actor who read the new story, said Alex Serdiuk, CEO and co-founder of Respeecher, in a video interview from Kyiv, Ukraine.

“The voice is iconic. It’s very recognisable, he said, adding that it tied in well with Christmas. “It’s just a cool story and it contributes a lot to mental health awareness.”

The increased use of AI to re-create the likenesses or voices of public figures in film, television and other content has become a contentious issue. Meta, for example, has introduced AI-powered characters based on celebrities such as rapper Snoop Dogg and former NFL quarterback Tom Brady that it will soon weave through its products.

Critics have raised questions over the ethics and regulation of the practice. The use of AI by studios and entertainment companies was among the concerns at the centre of strikes this year by Hollywood writers and actors.

Recently, actor Tom Hanks and news anchor Gayle King warned their followers on social media that their likenesses had been used in unauthorised advertisements. Cybersecurity experts have also cautioned that technology like “voice deepfakes” could help scammers steal from people or businesses or commit other crimes.

Jimmy Stewart starred with Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo.Credit: AP

Stewart’s family consented to the Calm project, according to Variety, which earlier reported the story.

Respeecher, founded in 2018, has synthesised voices for 150 projects, including football coach Vince Lombardi for a video at a Super Bowl. It is currently working with Warner Music France, it said, on an “animated biopic” of French artist Edith Piaf, who died in 1963, that will use AI to generate her likeness and voice. Its technology can also produce voice overs for media that would otherwise be laborious for actors to record, or convert recordings to other languages using the original actor’s voice.

The company has said that it does not allow its technology to be used for “deceptive uses,” including uses that would impinge on a subject’s privacy and ability to find work.

“In practice, this means we will never use the voice of a private person or an actor without permission,” the site says, but adds that the company would allow “nondeceptive uses” of historical figures and politicians.

Serdiuk said the company was aware of the concerns around the voice technology. They had introduced it with ethics policies that have only become stricter, he said, around gaining consent to use any intellectual property. “We are not letting anyone using our technology or tools to introduce a voice that they have no rights to,” he said.

He added that he was planning to listen to the Stewart story later that night before bed.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article