Hassan Taher Shares His Thoughts on Voice Cloning and Its Ethical Implications

The 2013 movie Her served as an in-depth introduction to modern-day artificial intelligence (AI) for many people in the United States and beyond. Her tells the story of a lonely introvert named Theodore (as played by Joaquin Phoenix) who becomes deeply enamored with an AI operating system named Samantha (as played by Scarlett Johansson). As their relationship becomes more and more complicated and problematic, the tragic twists and turns are made even more powerful thanks to Samantha’s eerie similarity to existing digital personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, which had already become part of routine daily life at the time of Her’s release.  

Globally renowned AI thought leader Hassan Taher recently discussed Her as part of his larger examination of the ethics of voice cloning in particular and AI in general. “In Her, the protagonist falls in love with an AI operating system, raising questions about the nature of relationships and the human experience,” he writes. “AI companions, like those seen in the movie, are becoming increasingly sophisticated, capable of engaging in meaningful conversations and providing emotional support.”

In addition to his regular public speaking engagements and his important work as the head of Taher AI Solutions, Hassan Taher has published numerous enlightening articles as well as books that include The Future of Work in an AI-Powered World, The Rise of Intelligent Machines, and AI and Ethics: Navigating the Moral Maze. Beyond his influential presence in the tech world, he has worked with major organizations that focus on driving innovation in the healthcare, manufacturing, finance, and entertainment sectors.  

“The intersection of AI and the entertainment industry has sparked intense debates, particularly around the use of AI-generated content,” reports Taher. For example, he points to the recent dispute between Her star Scarlett Johansson and OpenAI. “Johansson’s likeness and voice were allegedly used without her permission to create AI-generated content, reigniting Hollywood’s fears about the implications of AI,” he writes.  

Among other major news organizations, BBC News gave a detailed account of the Johansson/OpenAI dispute, reporting that OpenAI reportedly contacted Johansson to be the voice of its platform. After she declined the offer, OpenAI seemed to go ahead with its plans anyway, although the company denies that it intentionally imitated Johansson’s voice. According to BBC News, “it’s a classic illustration of exactly what the creative industries are so worried about – being mimicked and eventually replaced by artificial intelligence.” And this existential threat has become more profound as Hollywood studios show increasing interest in AI tools and consider specific partnerships with OpenAI.

Hassan Taher feels that the Johansson/OpenAI dispute and other high-profile news stories about unethical AI fakery highlight the urgent need for transparent legal frameworks and established ethical guidelines to govern the responsible use of AI in the entertainment industry. “AI can create lifelike digital actors, generate scripts, and even produce entire films, which could significantly reduce production costs and time,” he writes. “However, this technology also threatens the livelihoods of actors, writers, and other creatives. The controversy highlights the need for the industry to establish boundaries and protections to ensure that AI is used ethically and that the rights of individuals are safeguarded.”

Noting that OpenAI’s chief executive Sam Altman posted the title of the movie Her on X shortly after the release of the Johansson-like AI companion, the New York Times considered OpenAI’s appropriation of Johansson’s voice “all but official.” The Times went on to detail the various ways that technological advancements have brought AI far closer to the “Samantha” that bore Johansson’s voice in 2013’s Her. “The company’s new model, called GPT-4o (the o stands for “omni”), will let ChatGPT talk to users in a much more lifelike way — detecting emotions in their voices, analyzing their facial expressions and changing its own tone and cadence depending on what a user wants,” writes The Times. “If you ask for a bedtime story, it can lower its voice to a whisper. If you need advice from a sassy friend, it can speak in a playful, sarcastic tone. It can even sing on command.”

While their verisimilitude can be truly incredible, AI entities like OpenAI fall significantly short of human relationships when it comes to both authenticity and quality of emotional connection. Hassan Taher points out many other problematic aspects of AI interactions that seem to be mutual and two-way in nature. “The use of AI in this context challenges our understanding of companionship and what it means to connect with another being,” he contends. “As AI companions become more prevalent, society must grapple with the implications for human relationships and the potential for emotional dependency.”

For these reasons and more, Taher and many other AI experts are paying particular attention to voice generation technologies like those that OpenAI allegedly used to clone Scarlett Johansson’s voice. Beyond its capacity to cause big problems for celebrities and public figures like Scar Jo, AI voice cloning can have serious implications for the average person. As just one example, imaging receiving a panicked phone call from a loved one in desperate need of money. As the voice on the line responds naturally to each of your questions and makes requests that seem reasonable under the circumstances, you don’t stop to consider that it might be an AI fake.

“One of the most contentious areas in AI development is voice cloning, a technology that allows the creation of synthetic voices indistinguishable from those of real people,” writes Hassan Taher. “Voice cloning technology can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it offers incredible possibilities for entertainment, accessibility, and communication. For instance, it can help restore the voices of individuals who have lost their ability to speak. On the other hand, it poses significant risks, such as identity theft, deepfake scams, and the erosion of trust in audio recordings.”

Furthermore, Taher sees voice cloning as just one among many areas in which the widespread and innovative use of AI must be balanced with responsible government and industry regulation. “AI has the potential to drive economic growth, improve efficiency, and create new markets,” he reports. “However, it also poses risks, such as job displacement, market monopolies, and ethical concerns.”

“By addressing these challenges head-on, we can create a future where AI enhances our lives without compromising our values and rights, Hassan Taher concludes. “The ongoing discussions and controversies surrounding AI highlight the importance of vigilance, innovation, and thoughtful regulation in shaping the trajectory of this transformative technology. From legal battles over voice cloning and ethical dilemmas in the entertainment industry to the nuanced questions of AI companionship and the financial implications of AI, society must navigate these issues with care.”

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