AI used to recreate voice of late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain

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Anthony Bourdain - Evan Agostini/Invision
Anthony Bourdain - Evan Agostini/Invision

A documentary about the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has triggered controversy after it emerged that the filmmaker used artificial intelligence to recreate his voice.

A 45-second segment, in which Bourdain’s computer-created voice reads an email aloud, has raised ethical questions over the technique.

It was used by Morgan Neville in Roadrunner, a one hour 58-minute documentary about Bourdain, who committed suicide in 2018, aged 61.

In the clip, viewers hear the chef say: “My life is sort of s--t now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”

It would have remained a secret had Mr Neville not admitted using the technique in an interview with the New Yorker magazine.

While the use of AI in the Bourdain documentary was purely for artistic reasons, there are fears that the “deep fake” technology could be exploited for more sinister purposes.

In this case, Mr Neville sent approximately 12 hours of recordings of Bourdain to a software company who recreated his voice for the short clip.

“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,” he said.

However critics, including Bourdain’s former wife, Ottavia, condemned the use of AI.

She disputed suggestions that she had given her blessing for the clip.

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“I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that,” she tweeted.

Film critic Sean Burns added: “When I wrote my review I was not aware that the filmmakers had used an AI to deepfake Bourdain’s voice.

“I feel like this tells you all you need to know about the ethics of the people behind this project.”

Mr Neville defended the technique against accusations of chicanery. “I wasn’t putting words into his mouth. I was just trying to make them come alive,” he said.

“It was a modern storytelling technique that I used in a few places where I thought it was important to make Tony’s words come alive,” he added.


“I didn’t mean to imply that Ottavia thought Tony would’ve liked it. All I know is that nobody ever expressed any reservations to me.”

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