Like most things, deepfake technology is neither inherently virtuous nor evil. That depends on how someone utilizes it and for what purpose. And in the case of using computers to recreate the way a person sounds, we’ve seen it used both ways. It gave throat cancer survivor Val Kilmer his voice back. But the obvious downside is that deepfake voices can “make” anyone say anything you want. The implications of that are truly terrifying. Especially in a world suffering from wide-scale misinformation. But in-between those two extremes is a gray area of nebulous ethics and questionable practices. Like with Netflix’s new documentary series, The Andy Warhol Diaries. With permission from the famed artist‘s foundation, it uses deepfake technology so Warhol’s own “voice” can narrate his own writing.
Based on diaries published after Warhol’s death, the series will give viewers an intimate behind-the-scenes look at one of the 20th century’s most famous figures. However, the show’s official synopsis raises the question of whether using deepfake tech to recreate Warhol’s voice is something he would have approved of. Even if, it should be noted, the Andy Warhol Foundation did. From Netflix:
From executive producer Ryan Murphy and director Andrew Rossi, this breathtakingly expansive, six-part portrait of a legend chronicles the remarkable life of Andy Warhol from the intimate vantage point offered by the artist’s own posthumously published diaries. Beginning with his childhood in Pittsburgh, the series traces Warhol’s almost unbelievably diverse journey fluidly moving between mediums and through eras as an artist —both revered and reviled — director, publisher, TV producer, scene maker, celebrity and much more. While he was a larger than life figure, Warhol was intensely private regarding his personal life. This series truly reveals much about the very complex man through his own words — often in his own voice through the use of cutting-edge AI techniques— and those who worked, created, and played alongside him from the subversive to the mainstream, from John Waters to Rob Lowe.
The series says Warhol was an intensely private person. Would someone like that want a computer to make it sound like he was actually reading his most intimate thoughts? There’s no way to know. He’s not here to approve or disapprove of this himself.
The ethics behind bringing Andy Warhol’s voice to life with deepfake will be debated often in the near future. Because when it comes to using deepfake technology, right or wrong isn’t always straightforward.
The Andy Warhol Diaries debuts at Netflix on March 6.