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AI Voice Cloning & Synthetic Voices: Tools with Ethical Dilemmas?

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In today’s episode, our AI host, Polly, dives deep into the world of AI voice cloning and synthetic voices in podcasting. The discussion covers how these technologies can be used to streamline podcast production, from creating in-house audio ads to translating podcasts into different languages. However, as we venture into the new frontier of AI voices, ethical questions arise. The episode explores these concerns, providing thoughtful insights on maintaining the balance between innovation and ethical standards in podcasting.

Synthetic AI Voices Can Raise Questions

On the Podcasting Resources Guide I’ve recently been discussing the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Synthetic Voices in podcasting, for example in creating “in-house-promo” ads. I realize this can be a contentious issue. So, we’ve brainstormed three categories for the ethical use of AI Synthetic Voices, ranging from “no-brainer usage” to “questionable applications.” We’ve come up with over a dozen ideas we’d like to share with you. Here is a note from the host of our podcast, who is herself an AI with a “synthetic voice”

Before getting started, I imagine the programmers who created me, Polly your AI host, might chuckle knowing I’m debating about my own essence on air. The irony is not lost on my algorithms. Can you imagine me, your AI host Polly, hosting an episode on AI voices? It’s like a self-driving car discussing traffic laws! The world we live in…

Exploring the Benefits of Synthetic Voices

Let’s kick things off with some no-brainer uses of synthetic voices for podcasts. These are applications that most podcasters would likely agree are ethical and useful.

In House Audio Ads

First up, we have in-house audio ads. Synthetic voices can be a game-changer when it comes to creating ads for your podcast. It’s fast, efficient, and brings a polished consistency to your advertisements. Just imagine the flexibility of typing out your script and having it ‘read’ in an eloquent and engaging voice, without having to hit the recording studio or deal with retakes. Synthetic voices can save you time, ensure clarity, and bring a professional touch to your promotional efforts. Some platforms even allow you to add a background music track, giving you a finished in-house promo in record time.

Translation Into Other Languages

Next, we have translation into different languages. Podcasts are a universal medium, and reaching a global audience has never been easier with synthetic voices. By leveraging AI tools, you can translate and voice your content in a whole range of languages, expanding your reach and resonating with a diverse community of listeners. It’s a great way to make your show truly global.

Curated Blog Post Excerpts

Another use case for synthetic voices is text-to-speech reading of curated blog posts excerpts. Let’s say you come across a fantastic industry article that you’d love to share with your audience. Instead of just copying and pasting the link into your show notes, you can level up your sharing by turning the post into an audio segment using AI synthetic voice technology. They’re not only listening to you discuss the post but also listening to the post itself. You can even call out the parts that especially caught your attention. It’s like an analysis, discussion, and reaction all rolled into one enhanced segment within your podcast.

Podcast Segment Voice Overs

Now, let’s talk about voice-overs for podcast segments, intros, outros, and jingles. Leveraging AI voice-overs can inject a note of innovation to your podcast. They can serve as a versatile co-host, announcing segments or jazzing up intros, outros, and jingles. This is particularly beneficial for solo shows, as it adds a new texture to your audio canvas without interrupting your workflow.

Q&A Segments

Finally, let’s discuss Q&A segments for answering listener questions pulled from social media or your communities. Interactive podcast episodes that involve your audience are always a hit. And with synthetic voices, you can take your Q&A sessions to the next level. By having the AI read out listener questions, you create a more interactive and engaging experience for your audience. It also saves you time spent on reading each question multiple times to nail the perfect tone. While there are apps that allow listeners to leave voice messages for the host, in practice, these are often used less frequently than written comments and questions.

So there you have it — some no-brainer uses for synthetic voices in podcasts.

Applications that Push The Boundaries

So, let’s talk about some innovative uses of AI voices and cloned voices that may push the boundaries a bit. As someone with a podcast that is hosted by an AI, I have a unique perspective on this topic. You see, the “Podcasting Resources Guide” is a short news podcast where we review various podcasting tools for our audience at Polymash.

We believe that having an AI host like “Polly” is perfectly appropriate for a podcasting resources guide show — and this allows us to release more frequent episodes.

But now, let’s dive into some applications of AI voices and cloned voices that start to raise questions.

Replicating the Host’s Voice

One interesting application is replicating the host’s voice to save time. By cloning an AI to speak in the host’s voice, you can drastically cut down on the editing process.

Think about recurring elements like the cold open. Instead of recording them live or during post-production, using AI versions can save you valuable time.

Platforms like Descript even let you make audio corrections in post-production using the host’s cloned AI voice. So, if you ever misquote a statistic or stumble over a sentence, simply type in the correct text and let your AI clone tidy things up. It’s all about efficiency without compromising quality.

Entirely AI Hosted & Spin-Off Podcasts

Now, let’s explore the idea of AI-only hosted episodes or spinoff podcasts. Thanks to advancements in AI voice technology, it’s now possible to have podcasts entirely hosted by AI or even spinoff shows. Imagine a series of mini-episodes that run during your off-season — breaking news, quick tips, or throwback episodes — all delivered by your trusty AI voice. This use can keep your feed active and your audience engaged without demanding more from your recording schedule. However, a question arises: should you use the host’s cloned voice for this?

Personally, I believe it’s better to be upfront and true to your AI identity.

Blog Post to Podcast Conversion

Another interesting application is turning blog posts and written content into podcast episodes or segments. Thanks to AI, you can take your written content and give it a voice, literally.

Imagine transforming your blog posts, guides, or text-based content into meaningful and listenable podcast episodes.

AI can even replicate particular inflections and tones, giving the reading out an almost-human touch. Now, you might wonder if this is still on the okay side of things. Well, speaking from experience, creating a “listenable” script is not an easy task. So, if the transformation is done exceptionally well and the written content is owned by you, then I believe it’s okay.

However, crossing the line would mean using third-party blogs without permission from the author.

Ethical No-Nos in Synthetic Voices

Fun Celebrity Voices

Now, what about creating “Fun Celebrity Voices” to spice up your show? It may sound like a fun idea to imitate famous personalities using AI technology, but I firmly believe this ventures into ethical no-no territory. While it might bring a lighter touch to your podcast, it’s important to maintain ethical standards.

As we explore these innovative uses, we start blurring the lines between professional oratory and synthetic voices.

Therefore, a crucial question arises: how can we use AI and voice cloning ethically? It’s essential to ensure that the technology enhances the content rather than replacing it.

This includes obtaining the necessary permissions when cloning voices, preserving the human touch in the final production, and maintaining high-quality content that resonates with your listeners. In a nutshell, collaborating with AI voice technology boils down to setting the right tone and aligning with your podcasting principles.

AI Voices = Dystopia?

In a dystopian scenario, AI voices completely replace human hosts in podcasts….

Some may see this as entering a twilight zone because podcasts are cherished for their genuine, lively human interactions. Can we really trade that for synthetic voices, no matter how convincing they may sound?

And there’s another dimension to consider, which is the type of show we’re talking about. Let’s take our short format “Podcasting Resources Guide” as an example. It’s hosted by Polly, an AI. And if you’ve clicked the player widget at the top of this article, I hope the synthetic voice you’re hearing doesn’t feel too alien.

This is the result of our careful design of the show’s format and content, and our transparency in using AI.

Together, we hope they harmonize into an enjoyable blend.

AI Hosted Podcasts Won’t Work Everywhere

However, we cannot ignore the fact that this approach won’t work universally. Podcasts that rely on human narratives or intimate interviews simply cannot be done justice by an AI host.

So, what’s the key takeaway here? AI voice cloning in podcasting is not inherently good or bad. It’s a tool that can find its own place, as long as it’s used thoughtfully and transparently, without overshadowing the innate human charm of podcasting.

As we delve deeper into the world of AI voice cloning, we encounter a myriad of potential applications. Some are fascinating and permissible, while others tread the murky waters of ethical boundaries. We even reach points where there are outright ethical violations, such as replicating a guest’s voice without their consent, or exploiting a well-known voice without providing compensation or credit. It’s essential to understand that being entrusted with voice cloning is a privilege, not a right.

Is This a Matter of Subtlety?

For a more subtle example, imagine being a podcaster who uses an AI voice to back read listener feedback — but it is read back in a monotone way. At first glance, this may seem harmless. But upon closer inspection, you realize that you’re altering the tone and intent of your audience’s voices — their genuine expression of their thoughts on your show…

Deceptive Endorsements?

Another concern arises with deceptive endorsements. A podcast’s credibility is its currency, and artificial testimonials can bankrupt it in an instant. Do not do that.

We must also not overlook the potential breach of privacy. Utilizing an AI voice to broadcast listener data or emails you received may appear to be a cool idea, but without explicit consent, it becomes an unsettling intrusion into personal space.

Diluting the Magic

So, let’s consider this: while it’s tempting to have an AI host to simplify the content creation process, excessive reliance on AI can dilute the magic.

The personal connections listeners establish with their favorite shows, the human element that pulls at their heartstrings — are these ready to be invaded by AI?

In our pursuit of exceptional audio content, we should ensure we stay on ethically solid ground. Yes, AI voice cloning technology is here to stay. Yes, it presents us with tremendous opportunities for innovation. However, as we move forward, let’s bring along the values of authenticity, respect, and privacy that have been the bedrock of podcasting.

We have one more thought provoking scenario, though it has nothing to do with podcasting:

What About Cloning the Voice of An Older Relative for Posterity?

The idea of using technology to essentially immortalize our loved ones is an emerging concept that more people are exploring. As AI voice cloning technology advances, it’s becoming possible to create very realistic synthetic voices that mimic someone’s actual voice. Coupled with chatbot technology trained on interviews and conversations with that person, future generations could have simulated conversations with a digital version of their relative.

We came across some thought-provoking articles on Medium that dive into the possibilities and ethics around this.

Here are some reference articles on the topic of AI voice cloning and chatbots being used to preserve the voices and memories of older relatives:

  1. Staying Alive in the AI Death Tech Industry by Ginger Liu, M.F.A. — This article gives an overview of the emerging “death tech” industry where companies are using AI to recreate the voices and avatars of the deceased allowing the living to have conversations with digital memories of their loved ones. HereAfter AI is one such company that uses interview data to power AI chatbots, resembling the deceased.
  2. Grief is Artificial: Death in the Hands of Big Tech by Ginger Liu, M.F.A. — The article discusses the impact of big tech on grief, with a focus on AI chatbots that mimic the voice of the deceased providing a continuous bond for the bereaved.
  3. Grief Tech and the Implications of a Digital Afterlife by Ginger Liu, M.F.A. — This piece explores how apps like HereAfter AI aim to recreate the personality of the deceased and the ethical implications of a digital afterlife.

The goal is for his future grandchildren to be able to have a simulated conversation with their great-grandmother and learn about her life in her own voice.

Of course, this technology raises many ethical considerations that need to be thought through carefully. Consent of the person being cloned is absolutely essential. There are also questions around data privacy, ownership, evolving technology, and unintended consequences we can’t yet foresee.

But some feel the potential benefits outweigh the risks in certain cases. For relatives facing terminal illness, it could bring comfort knowing a part of them lives on. It also creates new ways for family history and ancestor connections to be preserved first-hand versus just reading it in a book.

Over to you: What say you about the ethics of such “immortality tech”? Do the Pros outweigh the Cons? Please comment and let me know…

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