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  • Writer's pictureTim Maylander

Why Maylander Vocal Productions supports the SAG-AFTRA Strike, Part Two

The SAG-AFTRA strike continues to drag on. We had really hoped at this point that the strike would be over, the studios would make concessions and we could all return to our regular lives & programming, it is not to be. Execs seem hellbent on continuing the strike until union members starve, freeze or are homeless (yes, this really is the plan from their own mouths).

One of the sticking points of the strike is money, which we covered last month. Another is the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, or AI, and what it mans for the industry. To Maylander Vocal Productions both issues are important, but compensation is more of a short-term issue. AI has the power (or soon will) to eliminate the need to repeatedly hire voice actors if left unchecked, and to us it's the bigger fish to fry.

When I first started thinking about AI, I thought about how it would affect me if I got back into teaching. I pictured students asking ChatGPT to write essays for them. See, when I was teaching, the biggest things I had to worry about were programs designed to beat plagiarism checkers. These "article spinning" softwares were generally very easy to detect, and almost always changed the students' writing "voice" that I had become familiar with over time. ChatGPT and other such services have completely changed the game. While it is still possible to see a change in voice from a student's writing compared to AI writing, it is *much* more difficult to detect and even the best plagiarism software might not be able to detect it.

For screen actors, the emergence of AI is even more frightening. Like we've discussed previously, for every A-list actress and actor there are thousands of other actors and actresses needed to make a film. Most of the time, background talent is just that - in the background, not given speaking parts, and is there to not be noticeable. What if just a few people could be paid and computers could duplicate them to make it look like there were hundreds or even thousands of actors? Or better yet - what if instead of actually paying people, computers could generate their own background talent?

Even in the 90's, we had that technology. I saw it on an episode of Wishbone where they explained how they had a crowd of jeering peasants stand in seven different places and then spliced them all together to make it look like there were seven times the number of people they actually had. Needless to say, the technology has gotten infinitely better since then (remember, we didn't even have smart phones back then). Not only is the technology better, it's cheaper. That combination led director Doug Liman to make this bone-chilling statement:

"Now the computer can do it cheaper - and in some cases better - than a human can."

This is why you'll find it hard for striking SAG-AFTRA members to swallow when studios say they're not trying to replace actors with AI and that the union's demands are unwarranted. The people involved in the process are literally saying the exact opposite.

If you think that's scary, picture leading actress and actors being completely AI generated, doing things they never did or intended to do, being used to promote products they've never heard of, endorse politicians they fervently disagree with, or engage in activities that are dangerous, illegal or against everything they stand for.

AI isn't at the point where it can do that for actors/actresses, and there are more protections for human likeness. But that's the sobering reality for voice actors in our modern world.

A quick Google search will give you websites that can clone a voice with as little as 30 minutes of recorded speech. We refuse to link to such products, so here's a picture:

Don't believe them on that one minute claim? Here's another page claiming they can do the same thing:

That means in as little as one minute, my voice can be made to say anything, support anyone, endorse anything, and is essentially no longer my own.

Remember that for a voice actor, their voice is literally their business. People are paying Maylander Vocal Productions because they want to use my voice to amplify their script, make their product more marketable or have their text read professionally. It is essential that I do everything in my power to protect my voice. In terms of care, that means lemon water and practice without over-exerting myself. In terms of legality and copyright, that means attaching legal waivers to every contract I sign. Thankfully, the wonderful folks at NAVA - the National Association of Voice Actors - have put together an AI rider that I plan on making use of every time I agree to work.

AI can make our lives easier, but at the same time it can have unintended consequences (see: self-checkouts). The thing that worries Maylander Vocal Productions about AI is that it could be used to put people out of work, or worse, use their work in ways they did not intend. We support SAG-AFTRA in making sure their members are protected from the dangers that AI poses and are very passionate about this issue.

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