I'm not sure if you've heard talk on the social media airwaves about my run in with AI? That is, me discovering that an AI voice site, called Revoicer, had been using my voice under the guise of character 'Olivia,' advertised as a having a 'soft and caring voice, perfect for audiobooks, or even a soft sell.'
See, I'd never authorised Revoicer to use my voice as an AI product - in fact, I'd never even heard of the site.
When I was first informed about this by super pro sound engineer at Mutiny studios, Mark Richards, I was justifiably angry. So much so that I penned an article about it for Voquent's industry blog called Whose Voice is it Anyway? which sparked a big conversation in the VO community about the rapid and frightening advancement of artificial intelligence products, their ethics, and the possibility that they may, sooner than we think, usurp humans from their creative posts.
As a result of this article, I was invited to speak on the matter by a number of journalists in the tech arena, as well as appear on Paul Schmidt's weekly interview series, which was startlingly titled 'AI STOLE MY VOICE!'
At the time of the interview, I was 100 per cent convinced that AI had stolen my voice. I had sought legal counsel in Ireland about it. I was shocked and hurt by the discovery of my voice somewhere I had never even heard of, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. After my interview with Paul Schmidt went live, another flurry of worried VOs got in contact - one of them was voice actor and lawyer, Rob Sciglimpaglia, who famously defended Bev Standing in her successful case against social media giant Tik Tok. He wanted to help me - and I needed help from a lawyer who understood AI, voice work, and could file in the US (where I had finally been informed my enemies were based, albeit under the radar).
Rob was convinced the answer to my problem lay in a little contract I had signed for Microsoft back at the start of lockdown 2020, for a TTS gig that I had auditioned for the previous year. Great, I thought. Now we can get the bad guys. I sent the contract over to him for review, only to be met with a - rather swift - email in return, beginning: 'Oh no, Remie....'
It turns out that back at the start of lockdown, when voice-overs and businesses of all kinds were scrambling to keep their canoes afloat, and I was scrambling to set up my home studio and keep this little career of mine on track, I had effectively done an Ariel, and signed away my voice for all of eternity to big bad Ursula (read: Microsoft). In the near complete shut down of that period, the TTS gig which I had auditioned for through Voices.com in 2019 for an unknown company was one of the first and few jobs that came through my door. When I won the gig I learned it was Microsoft I would be working for, and, not wanting to lose out on more work, I signed the papers without really looking at them, most likely in a state of quiet desperation. Poor, unfortunate soul.
What I was convinced had been the underhanded theft of my voice was actually my own short-sightedness and negligence, leading to places like Revoicer, and Soundly, and wherever else may take the fancy of creating a soft neutral Irish female voice product, making various things and AI entities with my voice (if a Microsoft product is where they got the files). And there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.
Always read the small print is absolutely my take away from this whole affair, even if it is already far too late. (Paul Strikwerda aka Nethervoice wrote about this issue to this tune on his blog - worth a read!)
So where does this leave me and voice-over now, you might ask? Am I like our favourite flame-haired mermaid - simply able to smile, nod, and comb my hair with a fork while someone masquerading as me walks scintillatingly along the shore? Not quite, I generally find forks to be a poor choice of hair maintenance tool. Look, I'm still a voice-over. I will still read things out loud within certain time frames and with as much human emotion as I can muster as long as the good people of this world still prefer a human voice over a robot one. But are my days as a VO numbered? That, only time can tell. In the meantime I may need to explore other career avenues available to me, such as exciting new haircare products that double up as dinnerware (email me if you're interested in purchasing the patent).
If you've gotten all the way through this piece today, I applaud you.
My voice, while I can still sort of call it my own, is available for hire, albeit with an AI rider attached from here on in.
You know the drill. Press 1 for human.
Until next time, toodles!
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RM Clarke is a writer and voice-over artist. She has written for various literary mags and anthologies and won awards. She has put her voice to most things she can think of.