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The Balance Between Synthetic Voice Cloning & Ethics

Every benefit is tied to a cost, and the benefits of voice tech are no different. There are ethical issues orbiting AI-powered voice tech, particularly synthetic voice and voice cloning. Rather than sweeping them under the rug, Ashley  Bailey, who leads marketing for Veritone's voice cloning solution, tackles them head-on as the moderator in a sobering panel discussion at VOICE 2021 earlier this week. 

Ashley and Veritone have good reasons to tackle this challenge, as Veritone’s is a custom synthetic voice cloning solution that allows one to securely and ethically create, manage, share, and monetize professional-quality synthetic voices.

Voice Tech Ethics Panel

Bailey shares the stage with four panelists, all of whom are industry leaders with extensive experience within the AI-powered voice tech space. They are:

Jon Stine of Open Voice Network (OVON) seeks to create a future of AI-powered voice tech that is standards-based, interoperable, accessible, and data protected. Four principles guide it: 

  1. Be worthy of user trust
  2. Enable user, ecosystem, and architectural choice
  3. Be inclusive and accessible
  4. Use open-source software and hardware that comply with interoperable standards.

Lauren Cowles also of Veritone understands the value of synthetic media and the power of voice to build new applications that provide immersive, personalized consumer experiences. It's even said that she's kept up at night thinking about the exciting opportunities to reimagine, streamline, and scale content production across industries that synthetic voice technology makes possible.

Jennifer Kady leads Data and AI solutions at IBM manages more than 10,000 customer relationships across Security, Data, AI applications, Business Analytics, and Cloud Integration business units. She understands customer challenges and she approaches technology and AI development with an ethical mindset.

Bryan Barletta founder and host of the popular adtech-focused podcast Sounds Profitable puts his 12 years as a sales engineer and product manager to work by detailing how anyone willing to learn can quickly become a podcast advertising technology expert.

Costs vs. Benefits

There are no easy answers for the ethical considerations of AI-powered voice tech. On the one hand, it's incredibly convenient and fun for its users. And it's driving a lot of growth to the organizations that deploy it. It also provides enormous benefits to the visually impaired, the physically disabled, and the elderly - all of which may have more difficulty manipulating touch-based UIs, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones.

And synthetic speech and voice cloning could even allow those who have lost their voice to speak again - and in their own voice to boot. That's pretty incredible and is definitely life-changing.

These are just a few of the benefits AI-powered voice tech brings to the table - and they're significant. But a coin has two sides - one of which may be uglier. Despite all its benefits, we're still forced to admit that voice tech has a darker side. That should come as no surprise, however. Any technology can be used for good or evil purposes, depending on the intentions of whoever controls it.

So at the same time, the same tech's potential for fraud, manipulation, and theft is staggering. Voice-cloning, for example, enables bad actors to dupe voice biometrics verification systems or commit fraud by convincingly impersonating one's close friend or family member to trick them into handing over sensitive information or simply sending them money. AI-powered voice tech has the power to bypass identification systems - whether those are computers or our own brains - and that makes a host of criminal activity easier to pull off and harder to detect.

All four speakers are familiar with these issues. And their shared discussion demonstrates their subtle understanding of the tech's ethical ramifications. They provide insights into real-world use cases and share some potential solutions to reach the delicate balance that we need so we don't lose the crucial benefits of AI-powered voice tech in our efforts to mitigate its social costs.

This all-star panel of industry experts discusses ethical best practices around synthetic voice, real use cases, consumer and talent rights, ethics in AI, and more. Watch VOICE 2021 on demand now - the only conversation poised to shape the future of conversational AI, which took place both in-person in Arlington, Va. this week.

VOICE Summit