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Drew Carey made a radio show with AI. Fans weren’t pleased. | Engadget

Drew Carey isn’t afraid of AI. Instead, The Price is Right host and longtime improv comedian is embracing the technology. During a recent episode of his SiriusXM radio show, “Friday Night Freakout,” Carey used an artificially generated version of his voice to handle most of his DJ work, reading a script written by ChatGPT. His AI voice kicked off the show, introduced upcoming songs and recapped what listeners were hearing. As an experiment to see just how far AI could go on the radio, the episode was mostly a success. But Carey’s fans weren’t happy about it.

“I violated a rule from Radio 101,” Carey told me. His Twitter fans complained that the voice sounded soulless, and that they missed the “real Drew.” “The reason FM stations and treasured radio stations still make money is because people like the personality of the DJs,” he said. “You don’t have to be like a big boss radio guy and be phony. You can just talk… that’s what listeners like.”

While his fans were ultimately forgiving of the experiment, Carey says he got the message: “Don’t do it again.”

For many entertainers, AI could be viewed as yet another threat in an increasingly precarious industry. Soon after ElevenLabs introduced a beta version of its AI voice tool — the same software Carey used for his radio show — online trolls used it to impersonate Emma Watson, Joe Rogan and other celebrities. Watsons’ simulated voice read portions of the Mein Kampf aloud, while other deepfaked voices made openly racist and transphobic statements, according to Vice.

Carey’s AI voice wasn’t perfect: It sounded a tad robotic, it didn’t have the inflections his fans have grown to love over the years, and the ChatGPT-written script was noticeably simplistic. But if you were driving down the highway late at night, and you just wanted a bit of company alongside some classic rock, it’s possible you wouldn’t notice the DJ wasn’t human. In fact, ElevenLabs recently partnered with Super HI-Fi to create “fully customized and personalized” AI driven radio stations.

“I was just playing with it, and I wanted to show what it was capable of,” he said. “Plus, I thought, oh, I don’t want to show everybody how to make an exact copy of my voice right now. I thought it might screw me over somehow. So I had that little fear in the back of my head.”

It took a weekend for Carey and a friend, who already had experience training ChatGPT and other AI tools, to create his AI voice. ChatGPT wrote 99 percent of his radio show’s script, though Carey made a few tweaks of his own. Funny enough, when he asked the chatbot to write a joke about how easy it was to use, it wrote the line “even Drew Carey can use it.” (Perhaps ChatGPT is just trying to snag a spot on the inevitable Whose Line Is It Anyway? revival.)

Carey envisions AI being used in the future for the grunt work of radio and other production. Perhaps it could read a script late at night, or churn out some ad copy. When I asked if that’s a potential problem for newcomers, he noted, “There are no blacksmiths anymore… If you’re a mechanic that works on internal combustion engine cars, if you don’t make the switch to electric soon, you’re out of a job.”

According to a recent Goldman Sachs report, up to 300 million jobs around the world could be automated thanks to recent advancements in AI. But the bank’s economists also point out that major innovations that replace some jobs typically lead to the creation of new roles. And for those who are only partially impacted by AI, they’ll likely be able to complement their work with generative intelligence.

For celebrities like Carey, AI could also be a way for them to continue working indefinitely, long after they’ve retired or passed on. James Earl Jones’s voice has already been reconstructed for the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi, and he’s approved future work to “keep Vader alive.” Eventually, actors (and their estates) could sign off on AI clones that entertain us for generations to come.

Carey isn’t afraid of such an outcome. “You know what, if the price is right, anything can happen,” he said when I asked if he’d ever sell his digital likeness. “I’m not worried about CGI Drew Carey taking over, because people want to see me, they want some kind of host. They want that interaction.”

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