Top Gun and Batman star Val Kilmer has found himself unable to speak in recent years. The beloved 90s action star, once renowned for his beautiful singing voice, had his voice taken from him after a years-long battle with throat cancer.
After two tracheotomies, Kilmer's vocals have been sadly damaged. While the actor can still speak, it’s a painful, strained process. However, using artificial intelligence, the iconic blockbuster lead will have his old voice returned to him.
Val Kilmer speaks again with artificial ingtelligence
Announced in partnership with Sonantic, previous recordings of the actor have been used to replicate his original voice. Using machine learning, these old recordings have been turned into a computer generated synthesised voice model.
Sonantic explains that building a voice model for Val Kilmer was a lot of work. Typically, the company works with those who can still speak to get pristine recordings of every possible sound a voice can make. However, due to the actor’s condition, extra work had to be done to create a model from old recordings.
Kilmer’s AI voice was built with 10 times less data than a typical voice engine would require. However, the finished product sounds pretty damn amazing. While the synthetic voice does have some robotic elements, it's a very realistic replication.
“When we think of the most talented, creative people, they speak to us in a unique way,” Kilmer said with his new voice. “A phrase we often hear is 'having a creative voice.' But I was struck by throat cancer. After getting treated, my voice as I knew it was taken away from me."
"People around me struggle to understand me when I'm talking. But despite all that, I still feel I'm the exact same person, still the same creative soul. A soul that dreams ideas and stories constantly. But now I can express myself again, I can bring these dreams to you, and show you this part of myself once more. A part that was never truly gone, just hiding away."
A good use of a controversial technology
Using AI voices to give people the ability to speak again is a beautiful use of artificial technology. For example, with a computer, Val Kilmer will be able to speak in his old voice and even voice act with it again.
However, the technology has already been used for more nefarious uses. Infamously, Anthony Bourdain documentary Roadrunner famously used an AI voice model to make the deceased celebrity say things he never said. This means that projects with actors who have died can have their voices used however directors wish.
Nevertheless, using AI to restore the voice of those who have had their speech taken from them is a very honourable use of the tech. As the technology improves, it could end up helping thousands of people connect with others every day.