GenAI, AI, Generative AI

There’s a new voice on the play-by-play mic for next month’s Summer Olympics. OK, it’s an old one, but with an AI twist.

Al Michaels, an Olympics broadcaster since 1980, is being reintroduced to viewers for the first time since he last called Games in 2016. But it is his voice rendered in generative AI, not him, who will deliver highlights, beginning next month in Paris.

A cloned version of Michaels’ sonorous voice, powered by generative AI and AI voice synthesis technology, will be used to deliver daily recaps for subscribers of NBC’s Peacock streaming platform.

“Your Daily Olympic Recap on Peacock,” a 10-minute highlights package featuring events updates, athlete back stories and personalized content, will be narrated by what Peacock calls a “high-quality AI re-creation” of Michaels’ voice. It uses past appearances on NBC, where he has worked since 2006, to take advantage of his “signature expertise and elocution.”

NBC Sports editors are reviewing the content to ensure it is factual and names are pronounced correctly.

Still, the boldest, and most high-profile, use yet of AI-generated voice is bound to set off alarms from broadcasters and voice actors in a market already roiled by AI. Voice actors Paul Skye Lehrman and Linnea Sage recently sued AI startup Lovo in a class-action lawsuit for violating trademark laws.

The actors were hired by Lovo several years ago to provide voice clips for what they were told would be internal research — only to later hear Lehrman’s voice on a YouTube video and later a podcast that he never recorded.

Even the rich and famous aren’t immune. In May, actress Scarlett Johansson threatened legal action after she said OpenAI’s ChatGPT used a voice “eerily similar to mine” without her permission. OpenAI Chief Executive Sam Altman insists the isn’t Johansson’s.

Meanwhile, voice actors are rapidly being displaced by cloned versions of their own. If the Michaels experiment works, could networks expand the use of AI?

Kamal Ahluwalia, president of at GenAI platform ikigai Labs, doesn’t dismiss the possibility.

What’s happening with AI voices is merely replicating a mega-trend for jobs over the next three to five years, he warns. A third of jobs will be displaced by AI, another third will be dramatically different, and the last third will be entirely new, Ahluwalia said in an interview.

“What is happening to voice actors is the new reality,” he said.

And, it is a future that Michaels, who is being compensated for the use of his voice far away from the action in Paris, is willing to accept.

“When I was approached about this, I was skeptical but obviously curious,” Michaels said in a statement. “Then I saw a demonstration detailing what they had in mind. I said, ‘I’m in.'”

Michaels was famously traded to NBC from ESPN in 2006 for the rights to the animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.