Voice actors denounce exploitative technology during Comic-Con panel: ‘AI isn’t implementing itself’
Members of SAG-AFTRA and the National Association of Voice Actors united to address how artificial intelligence can threaten creativity.
As film and TV actors skipped San Diego Comic-Con in support of the SAG-AFTRA strike, a number of voice actors gathered to show their support — and raise awareness about the threat of artificial intelligence on their industry.
The National Association of Voice Actors hosted a panel Saturday morning, where multiple actors and SAG officials spoke to a packed room about how rapidly changing AI technology can threaten both fans and creators. Participants included Linsay Rousseau (Transformers: War for Cybertron), Ashly Burch (Mythic Quest), Cissy Jones (The Owl House), Zeke Alton (The Callisto Protocol), Tim Friedlander (Record of Ragnarok), and SAG-AFTRA executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.
The panelists took a deep dive into the many different forms of AI, particularly in its use in voice work — from original voices like Apple’s Siri to synthetic voices copying live actors. All cautioned that AI inherently is not a bad tool and can in some ways enhance voice performances, but fans and actors should push back against exploitative methods.
“Voice acting is the tip of the spear of how AI can either be used to lift people up and enhance the opportunities that actors have — or be used in a negative way to steal their voices and crush human creativity,” Crabtree-Ireland told the crowd. “We need to be very vigilant about that. AI isn’t implementing itself. People are choosing to implement AI. So, we’ve got to reject the idea that this is something that is going to happen to us, and there’s nothing to be done about that. That is an absolute myth that is being foisted upon us by the people who want us to think we have no power.”
SAG-AFTRA executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland joined voice actors at San Diego Comic-Con 2023
| Credit: Chelsea Guglielmino/FilmMagic
Ultimately, the panelists explained, it all comes down to consent. Currently, there are no federal or international laws protecting a person’s likeness, and many existing contracts allow a company to capture an actor’s voice or likeness and use it “in perpetuity.” NAVA and SAG-AFTRA are calling upon voice actors and fans alike to push back, both by establishing protective contract language and by pushing for global laws.
Friedlander pointed out that video game voice actors can be particularly susceptible to having their voices stolen or used in inappropriate and even explicit content. He argued that it’s impossible for one actor to find and address every example of that online, so he encouraged fans to help find and report what they see.
“We love modding communities and fans, and we love working with fans to help share and grow these games that we love,” Friedlander said. “But you start getting to the point of taking these recognizable voices and putting them into an AI and making them say something that was never ever said. It can be used in pornographic content. That’s a line that’s being crossed that a lot of voice actors are not happy about. It’s something that becomes dangerous to them, and it becomes damaging to their families and future work.”
“There is nothing in law that prevents me from using tools to grab any one of your voices, faces, and likenesses and make some sort of expressive work without your permission — which sucks,” Alton added. “You want to own who you are. You don’t want your kids seeing some real foul stuff out there that you didn’t do or didn’t say. We think that every individual should have the right to who they are. Right now, studios and media conglomerates think, ‘Well, that hurts our competitive advantage.’ But that’s me! I’m not going to give you me for your competitive advantage.”
The panelists added that many of their concerns aren’t limited to voice acting. As the technology grows and develops, it can have ramifications for countless other professions — from writers and actors to lawyers and social media influencers.
“I heard someone say recently that it would be so great for fans if AI is implemented because you could get a new season of Succession, if you want,” Burch added. “And I guarantee you, you do not want an AI-written season of Succession. It’s just not the same.”
Crabtree-Ireland also drew parallels between the fight for voice rights and a certain maritime Disney movie that hit theaters earlier year.
“I will say one of the companies we’re on strike against has told a story of a small mermaid and a sea witch that literally steals that small mermaid’s voice,” Crabtree-Ireland told the crowd to applause. “I don’t know about you, but I remember seeing that and at the time thinking how horrifying that is, seeing this sea witch steal the mermaid’s voice and use it for herself. That is exactly what we’re talking about.”