Stephen Fry Discusses Having His Voice Ripped Wholesale for AI

Stephen Fry AI Harry Potter
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Stephen Fry AI Harry Potter
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Photo Credit: Marco Raaphorst / CC by 2.0

Stephen Fry speaks on his voice being ripped from Harry Potter audiobooks for AI narration and warns the worst is yet to come.

AI remains a hot topic in the entertainment sector as the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union strike reaches its third month (and the WGA strike writers’ strike its fifth). British actor and author Stephen Fry recently spoke at the CogX Festival in London about his experience of having his identity “digitally cloned” without permission, using his voice from his reading of the seven-volume Harry Potter audiobooks and creating an AI of his voice from that dataset.

“I’m a proud member of (SAG-AFTRA). As you know, we’ve been on strike for three months now. And one of the burning issues is AI,” said Fry, addressing the audience during his speech at the CogX Festival on Thursday.

During his speech, Fry played a clip to the audience of an AI system using his voice to narrate a historical documentary. “I said not one word of that — it was a machine. Yes, it shocked me,” he said. “They used my reading of the seven volumes of the Harry Potter books, and from that dataset, an AI of my voice was created, and it made that new narration.”

“What you heard was not the result of a mashup. This is from a flexible artificial voice, where the words are modulated to fit the meaning of each sentence,” Fry explained. “It could therefore have me read anything from a call to storm Parliament to hard porn, all without my knowledge and without my permission. And this, what you just heard, was done without my knowledge. I heard about this, I sent it to my agents on both sides of the Atlantic, and they went ballistic — they had no idea such a thing was possible.”

“This is audio,” Fry said he told his agents. “It won’t be long until full deepfake videos are just as convincing,” he explained, viewing the issue as “just the beginning of an emerging threat to creative talent” and telling his agents, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

“We have to think about it like the first automobile: impressive, but not the finished article,” Fry continued, noting that when cars were first invented, no one could have predicted how widespread and ingrained into society they would become.

“Tech is not a noun, it is a verb, it is always moving,” he said. “What we have now is not what will be. When it comes to AI models, what we have now will advance at a faster rate than any technology we have ever seen. One thing we can all agree on: It’s a f***ing weird time to be alive.”

While Fry’s account is chilling, he isn’t the first celebrity to publicly vocalize concerns about AI and its place in the entertainment industry. Other actors who have recently spoken up about the topic include Succession star Brian Cox, Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, comedian Simon Pegg, and SAG-AFTRA union president Fran Drescher.