AI company lets dead celebrities read to you. Hear what it sounds like.

Hearing the voice of Sir Laurence Olivier catch you up on work memos may not offer the same thrill as watching the acclaimed English actor on stage or screen, but it could make your morning commute more interesting. 

That’s the vision of artificial intelligence startup ElevenLabs, which this week announced that fans of Hollywood icons such as Judy Garland and James Dean can now listen to the voices of the deceased film stars narrate books, articles and other digital text.

The company said it had reached agreements with the estates of Olivier, Garland, Dean and Burt Reynolds to add their voices to a library of AI-generated voices on ElevenLab’s new Reader App. The product lets users listen to text on your phone, with the actors’ voices available for individual streaming. 

ElevenLabs did not provide details about any financial compensation it is offering to the actors’ estates.

“We deeply respect their legacy and are honored to have their voices as part of our platform,” Dustin Blank, head of partnerships at ElevenLabs said in a blog post. “Adding them to our growing list of narrators marks a major step forward in our mission of making content accessible in any language and voice.” 

Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland’s daughter and the representative of her estate, said in the post that her family is excited to “see our mother’s voice available to the countless millions of people who love her.” 

Using AI to recreate a version of someone’s voice has drawn negative attention after being used in nefarious ways, including the creation earlier this year of a phony robocall from President Joe Biden urging people not to vote in New Hampshire’s presidential primary. 

In another incident, actress Scarlett Johansson is May said she was “shocked, angered and in disbelief” after discovering that a voice option on OpenAI’s ChatGPT app sounded like her. Johansson had declined OpenAI founder Sam Altman’s offer to voice ChatGPT’s text-to-speech product. Altman said the voice is not Johansson’s.

AI was a key issue in the SAG-AFTRA strike last year. A new actor contract includes limits on artificial intelligence. Producers for TV and film must get consent from actors to use a digital replica, and performers are also entitled to compensation for using AI to create their virtual likeness.

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