Makers of Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain have come in for criticism for using AI to voice quotes that were never actually spoken by the chef.
The film, which opened last week to critical acclaim, is an unflinching look at the chef’s rise to fame, his struggles adapting to his new life, and the dark and chaotic spiral towards his tragic end. But now the documentary has caused controversy over the use of Artificial Intelligence to create a ‘deep fake’ voice-over of three quotes that were apparently written by Bourdain, but not spoken by him.
Director, Morgan Neville, used an AI voice generator to replicate Bourdain’s speaking voice delivering his own lines by inputting around twelve hours of Bourdain’s vocals into a machine learning system.
There are reportedly three instances of the replicated voice, with Neville only divulging the identity of one of them. It appears towards the end of the film’s second act where Bourdain’s close friend David Choe, reads an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” as Choe reads, his voice fades out and Bourdain’s fades in: “. . . and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”
As for the other two quotes, Neville isn’t telling. “If you watch the film… you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know.”
The film contains many Bourdain quotes taken from thousands of hours of television appearances, but, as Neville explained to The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner, “there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of”.
The filmmakers have come in for harsh criticism, both on social media and by cinema writers, for the so-called ‘ethical lapse’. The use of a constructed narrative device has opened up the wider conversation about ethics and truth in documentary storytelling.
Critic Sean Burns, who had reviewed the documentary negatively, tweeted: “I feel like this tells you all you need to know about the ethics of the people behind this project.”
Other critics bemoaned the fact that Asia Argento, Bourdain’s partner at the time of his death and who is portrayed as a crucial figure in the unravelling of Bourdain, was never interviewed for the film.