Like many art forms such as music, painting, literature, and many other different forms of art and expression, voice acting is an industry in which artificial intelligence has made an impact. As time has gone on and technology has developed, the options that different companies have access to in order to have voice performances generated by computers have increased. While the software and programs may seem enticing to some and provide a sense of hope for those in the voice-acting industry, many industry veterans are on the fence about these improvements in artificial intelligence.
The biggest progression in terms of artificial intelligence being used in the voice acting industry is text-to-speech software. This software takes whatever text a user puts into it and outputs it into an audible message delivered by the computer. However, while software like this has been around for a decently long time, it has not always been the best in terms of sounding human. This has changed in recent years thanks to software such as Sonantic. Sonantic is a software that allows users to enter in dialogue and have it be played back in voices with varying expressions and emotions. The goal of Sonantic as a software is to be an improvement over the basic text-to-speech software that different companies have used in the past. Instead of being faced with a monotone and often robotic voice, now companies are able to hear performances that sound closer to a human voice while they are working on finishing their products. One company that has already started to use the Sonantic software is Obsidian Entertainment. Obsidian Entertainment have developed many games with large followings such as Fallout New Vegas, The Outer Worlds, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, as well as many others, and have now transitioned to using Sonantic as a way to improve the development process of their titles. “The kind of games we make have tons of dialogue. Tens of thousands of dialogue and it’s almost like drinking from a fire hose. If we had to go in and we had to adjust every single line and try to dial in the perfect performance, we would never get it done. Sonantic allows us to just take those tens of thousands of lines of dialogue and just send it to the API and then what we get back is something that is actually good.” (Sonantic – Acquired by Spotify 3:58). While Sonantic has not fully replaced traditional actors in games, software like Sonantic has been a massive improvement in helping companies such as Obsidian Entertainment in putting out products in a much more efficient manner.
Improvements in text-to-speech software are not the only improvements being made in artificial intelligence-based voice acting. Another improvement comes in the way that certain software is able to alter the performances of real actors. One software gaining headway in this category is Altered AI which is a software that takes the performances given by actors and then uses artificial intelligence to alter the sound of their voice to sound like someone else. Many different changes to voice performances are able to be made with software such as the ones provided by Altered AI from making a voice performance sound like it was given by a more famous actor, or even just changing the actors’ original voice to make them sound older, younger, or even like a different gender. Altered AI does this through a catalog of different voice actors that their voices are based off of. “This brings us to the world of Altered AI, which promises game developers tools that can ‘create compelling, professional voice performances. Its library features roughly 20 professional actors, with hundreds of generic voices to populate game worlds.” (Woodrow). Software such as the one created by Altered AI hopes to improve the way companies and game developers can finish their products by allowing much more freedom when it comes to the actors that they use. Even if an actor may not be able to deliver the exact specific performance the developers are looking for, the software can help companies who cannot afford bigger actors still get a performance they are satisfied with out of the actors that they have.
Now that we have covered some of the improvements that artificial intelligence has afforded the voice acting industry and game development companies, it is important to go over some of the specific benefits that these improvements afford the voice actors themselves. A huge benefit for actors that is possible thanks to the advancements in artificial voice acting is that there is less stress in terms of being “perfect” for a role. With software such as Altered AI, actors no longer need to be able to consistently reach a level of perfection with their craft in order to get the role they want. As long as their performance is good, then the artificial voice can fill in the gap in order for up-and-coming actors to still have a role that they are proud of. There is also the added benefit of actors being able to be in multiple roles at once much easier than they would be able to without the assistance of artificial voice acting. With the improvements in artificial voice acting that have recently been made actors can now work physically on one role while artificial intelligence helps them complete other roles that they may have initially been too busy to complete themselves. Outside of just their roles, voice actors who lend their voices to different software companies are often times compensated for their voice or likeness. As such, there is a monetary benefit to not only using artificial voice software but also to being a contributor to artificial voice software. Zeena Qureshi, the CEO and Co-Founder of Sonantic brought up some of these points when she said “We partner with our actors, and we ensure that they have a model that they can be proud of, a profit share any time their voice gets used, that their voice is preserved that they never have to strain it and then they can work on multiple projects at once any time they want.”. The freedom offered to voice actors by the invention and improvement of voice acting powered by artificial intelligence is something that can greatly push the industry forward if used in the correct way.
While voice acting assisted by artificial intelligence does have benefits for the voice acting industry, nothing is perfect, and as such there are also some drawbacks that can hurt both the industry as a whole and the individual actors within it. One of the concerns that comes with artificial voice acting is the efficiency of software to replicate human voices. On both ends of the spectrum, voice actors are worried by the ability that software has to mimic human voices. Some voice actors believe that even with the advancement of artificial voice acting software, a lot of emotion and personality that you get with human actors ends up being completely lost. It is common when talking about how artificial intelligence impacts art forms such as music and painting to consider the human element that is lost once the job is done by technology rather than a person and voice acting is no different. However, many voice actors end up having the complete opposite issue with artificial voice acting. Many voice actors fear that if artificial voice acting keeps improving, then the technology may get to a point where there will be no need for human voice actors as the software will do it better than any human could for a cheaper overall cost. These ideas were explained well in an article by Erik Petrovich when he said “The full impact of AI on the voice acting industry is yet to be felt, but several developers and even modders are already using AI technology. But if gaming voice actors are to be believed, there’s a thin line between AI being a useful tool, and being a roadblock for aspiring VO artists.” (qtd. In Petrovich). While artificial voice acting may be an impressive tool in helping voice actors, if used improperly, it can become just as much of an issue for people both looking to get into the industry and those who are already in the industry.
While it is good to look at how voice acting fueled by artificial intelligence can impact the industry both positively and negatively, it is also important to look at how many of the specific actors within the industry feel about the emerging technology. Roger Clark, who is the actor behind Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2 let his hopeful optimism be known when he said, “I am interested in what AI can do, but its capacity for imitating real people is alarming” (qtd. In Petrovich). However, Roger Clark is not the only voice actor with feelings on the matter as Sarah Elmaleh who played roles such as Lizzie Carmine in Gears 5 and Despondent Pyre in Halo Infinite discussed about how she believed artificial intelligence could not properly perform the job that a human could when she said “[Line reads are] usually an unfortunate last-ditch failure of direction, and ‘copying’ usually sounds dead on its feet.” (qtd. in Smith). She also further expanded on her ideas when she said “When you hire an actor, you get so much more than a sound. Great dialogue doesn’t come from the mouth, it comes first from the heart. Mouth-to-mouth is good for CPR, bad for acting.” (qtd. in Woodrow). Another voice actor who had similar sentiments to Sarah Elmaleh was Ashley Burch, an industry veteran known for many famous roles such as Aloy in the Horizon series of games, Tiny Tina in the Borderlands series of games, and Chun-Li in certain games in the Street Fighter franchise discussed her distrust for artificial intelligence assisted voice acting when she said “Artistically, you’re never going to get a truly dynamic and compelling performance from an AI. A few combat barks? Maybe. But if you’re looking for something human and nuanced and alive, AI isn’t going to cut it.” (qtd. in Woodrow). While there are benefits to the voice acting industry with new technology being developed with artificial intelligence, it is clear that many famous voice actors are cautious for how the technology may impact the industry in the long run.
Artificial intelligence is an incredibly interesting topic. In many different industries artificial intelligence has allowed for incredible advancements that may not have been possible otherwise. However, when it comes to artificial intelligence being used for voice acting, it is clear to see that while the technology has some benefit, not everyone is sold on the idea. This does not mean that more advancements in artificial intelligence being used for voice acting will not be made or that eventually a middle ground may be created between actors and the software that both helps and hurts them. However, as it stands right now, the topic of artificial intelligence being used for voice acting inspires both hope and a little bit of fear for the future of the industry.
Petrovich, Erik. “Why Voice Actors Are Concerned by This AI Tech.” SVG, SVG, 23 Sept. 2022, https://www.svg.com/1022617/why-voice-actors-are-concerned-by-this-ai-tech/.
Smith, Rebecca. “Voice Actors Concerned about Game DEVS Using AI to Replace Them.” PlayStation LifeStyle, 24 Sept. 2022, https://www.playstationlifestyle.net/2022/09/23/voice-actors-game-jobs-ai-technology/.
“Why Obsidian Uses Ai Voices for Game Development | Sonantic.” YouTube, uploaded by Sonantic – Acquired by Spotify, 2 Mar. 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YajBa5PO1Hk.
Woodrow, Ryan. “Why Video Game Actors Are Worried Artificial Intelligence Could Take Their Jobs.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 26 Sept. 2022, https://ftw.usatoday.com/2022/09/altered-ai-replace-actors.