By: Nick Gambino
Thanks to the advances in AI, you can now fall asleep to the soothing voice of George Bailey himself. The Calm meditation app has added a feature where Jimmy Stewart (or rather, a robot pretending to be the iconic actor) reads you a bedtime story.
The reading is aptly titled It’s a Wonderful Sleep Story, a play on his classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The app uses AI voice-cloning tech to bring the actor’s signature cadence and affectations back to life. He passed away at the age of 89 in 1997.
“Well, hello, I’m James Stewart, but, well, you can call me Jimmy,” the audio story reads. “Tonight, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a heartwarming story of love, of loss, of hope and of joy.”
With the permission of Stewart’s estate and family, Calm has created something that I’m honestly conflicted about. On one hand, the actor left us over 25 years ago, making him more of an historical figure than, say, an actor who passed in more recent memory, like Robin Williams.
Beyond the moral ambiguity of the feature, I’m having trouble buying it. If you listen to the intro to It’s a Wonderful Sleep Story you might get what I’m saying. It’s clearly a mimicry of Stewart’s voice, but there’s something missing. A soul maybe? It’s as if the AI doesn’t know how to perform. It’s an automaton performance and I can’t unhear it.
To make things worse, the cover tile says “Narrated by James Stewart” which isn’t technically true. Maybe my Gen Y brain can’t accept it and that’s a me problem.
“There’s been a lot of conversation about AI in recent months as the tech makes significant strides into territory traditionally occupied by humans. Voice reproduction is perhaps the most impressive example of its advances,” Andrew Tropeano, Host of News Around America (www.newsaroundamerica.com), tells us about the new Calm app feature. “It’s going to be a divided subject for some time and it’ll be interesting to see whether regulations slow down or speed up AI adoption.”
We’ll continue to report on AI and the fight for maintaining the human artist’s presence in the creation of art.