Do You Hear What I Hear: Deepfakes in Audio Erotica
Are digitally-impersonated voices unethical or what the industry needs right now?
With the ethics of creating unauthorized video simulations getting most of the attention, it is easy to forget there are other kinds of deepfakes to think about.
Human impressionists used to be the only way to imitate a person's voice, but that is no longer the case. As computer-generated imagery (CGI) makes it nearly impossible to tell a real picture or video from a fake, we can now reproduce anyone's speech patterns.
Though undoubtedly troubling, there might be an unexpected upside to this new breed of audio-mimicking technology.
Lady Chatterley's Lover performed by a computer-resurrected Cary Grant? An artificially-recreated Anaïs Nin reading us her diaries? A fake Morgan Freeman doing Fanny Hill? Or, for all you kinksters out there, a spoken word version of The Story Of O by Bugs Bunny?
Speaking someone else's mind
In 2016, Adobe's Project Voco pricked up a lot of ears when, in real-time, it was used to alter Jordan Peele talking about his Oscar nomination. In fact, it was so good, and fearing they'd be sued out of existence, Adobe shelved it.
But that didn't stop other companies from releasing their own audio-manipulation software. Resemble AI, for instance, can doctor a recording of someone's voice. To dodge the obvious legal issues, you are supposed to get the speaker's permission. But as with video deepfake technology, this safeguard is bypassable.
Speech Gradients, Real Time Voice Cloning, and Descript work similarly. Each with more or less effective systems to prevent abuse.
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Vocal deepfake software is more accessible than ever
Though a few audio erotica publishers use computer-generated voices, the majority are recorded by human beings. As vocal deepfake software gets easier to use, is more affordable, and offers more options though, things could go very differently.
To be clear, I'm not advocating replacing humans with software. No matter how good their programmers are, none of them have the same ineffable allure a person has when telling a story—more than anything when it's provocatively sultry work.
However, there are far more explicit books than voice actors available to read from them. Software may never be as alluring as a flesh-and-blood human, but using artificial voices would certainly get the job done.
In turn, people who prefer to listen or with a visual impairment would have far more things to enjoy, allowing otherwise unknown authors to reach new audiences.
Computer-generated voices could benefit both creators and listeners
Not exactly keen to read my erotic fiction out loud, I'd jump at the chance to have a program do it for me. Particularly if I could tweak it to enhance my audience's experience, like having characters who sound like me but with unique cadences to help set them apart from one another.
Living or not, celebrities might benefit from this technology as well. As their likenesses are licensed, their voices would also be available to rent or buy. So we could have Gary Grant, Anaïs Nin, Morgan Freeman, or even Bugs Bunny read our erotica. If that is, they or their estates give permission.
Why stop there? Shouldn't it be possible to use this technology not just to have one person read a book or story but an entire cast?
Not only that, but mix visual and audio replication together. In goes a tantalizing book, and out comes a fully rendered movie. Or how about a thoroughly immersive, totally interactive virtual or augmented reality experience?
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We need to talk about the ethics of deepfake technology
More than usability, cost, and cool new features, it needs an ethical makeover before any company can think about using deepfake technology.
How is anyone's guess. A combination of stringent laws, industry regulations, and overwhelming support for both could work. Not to mention establishing a system where it would be impossible to imitate anyone's face or voice without their permission.
Until then, we'll never be able to discover all the good audio and video manipulation might give us, like transforming erotic books and stories into something hotter than fiction.
Image sources: Karolina Grabowska