Tossing and turning in search of a soothing bedtime story, imagine being comforted by the legendary Jimmy Stewart’s voice, resonating with warmth and familiarity. Calm, the sleep and meditation app, recently introduced a novel story narrated by the beloved late actor, captivating listeners with an artificial intelligence-generated rendition of Stewart’s iconic drawl.
“Hello, I’m James Stewart, but call me Jimmy. Tonight, I’ll tell you a story,” begins the AI clone, coaxing listeners to get comfortable. It’s a heartwarming tale, promised to be a “wonderful sleep story.”
Image Source: New York Post
The story, a creation by Calm’s creative team, marks a pioneering step by blending AI-generated speech technology with celebrity narratives. Partnering with Respeecher, a Ukrainian-based AI company, Calm crafted a sleep-inducing story infused with the unmistakable essence of Jimmy Stewart’s voice, ushering users into a tranquil slumber.
While Stewart passed away in 1997, his estate collaborated closely with Calm, ensuring fidelity to his legacy. The project gained approval from CMG Worldwide, responsible for managing Stewart’s licensing, fostering a fusion of tradition and innovation in storytelling.
Respeecher’s CEO, Alex Serdiuk, shed light on the meticulous process behind resurrecting Stewart’s voice. By feeding recordings of the actor into their system and merging it with a voice actor’s rendition, Respeecher recreated Stewart’s intonations and cadence, emphasising its relevance, particularly during the festive season.
The proliferation of AI in replicating the personas or voices of public figures has sparked debates on ethical boundaries and regulatory frameworks. While technological advancements like these open new creative vistas, concerns around consent, privacy, and potential misuse have surfaced, echoing sentiments voiced by Hollywood figures like Tom Hanks and Gayle King.
Respeecher, founded in 2018, stands at the forefront of AI-driven voice synthesis, undertaking diverse projects, from recreating historical figures like Vince Lombardi to collaborating on animated biopics. Their technology not only aids in media production but also ensures adherence to stringent ethical policies, respecting intellectual property rights and securing consent.
Respeecher’s CEO, Alex Serdiuk (in yellow, sitting down) with his team (Image Source: Respeecher Website)
Mr. Serdiuk emphasised the company’s ethical stance, prioritising consent and privacy, underscoring their commitment to prevent misuse or deceptive applications of their technology. With a clear policy against using private individuals’ voices without permission, Respeecher aims to balance innovation with ethical considerations.
Jimmy Stewart’s family photo (Image Source: Guideposts)
Despite the ethical dilemmas surrounding AI voice recreation, Stewart’s family reportedly consented to the Calm project, emphasising a nuanced approach to the controversy. Calm remains committed to ethical considerations, ensuring its AI technology adheres to stringent guidelines and does not infringe on privacy rights.
Acknowledging the ongoing discourse around AI ethics, Mr. Serdiuk affirmed Respeecher’s commitment to stringent consent protocols. Amidst the ethical debates, the union of AI technology with timeless voices like Jimmy Stewart’s represents a milestone, marrying innovation with a respectful nod to legacy.
While the advancement sparks debate, the Calm story featuring Stewart’s AI-driven narration serves as a testament to the evolving landscape of storytelling, blending tradition with cutting-edge technology for the benefit of an audience seeking serenity in the digital age.