By Natalie Rodgers
In 2015, beloved actor Val Kilmer, perhaps best known from the iconic ‘Top Gun’ movie, was diagnosed with throat cancer. Though he won the battle against cancer, one of his throat treatments took away a majority of his ability to speak vocally. Now, over half a decade later, Kilmer has his voice back and it’s all thanks to artificial intelligence.
In correspondence with the debut of his new documentary, “Val”, Kilmer gave an epilogue of sorts to his biography with the reveal of his new voice, which he was able to recreate with the software company, Sonantic.
Working closely with Sonantic, the team was able to feed pre-recorded audio of Kilmer’s old voice and its transcript into an artificial intelligence algorithm, which then learns the inflections and tones of his voice to create a vast library of speaking patterns. The team then edited the audio to give it a more lifelike tone than the more robotic inflection heard from other AI systems, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. The firm says their team of engineers was able to create 40 different versions of Kilmer’s voice and selected the one that closest resembled his natural one.
According to a statement done by Sonantic, the voice engine can translate the meaning of written words and cues to demonstrate emotion in voice from passive conversation to an angry tone. This means that Kilmer’s voice is not only capable of reading lines of text, but of conveying information in a more personable way. Sonantic stated that Kilmer is welcome to use his voice in any capacity that he chooses.
“Val’s team wanted to give him his voice back so that he could continue creating.” Sonantic CEO Zeena Qureshi explained to the Washington Post, “It’s exclusively his model. He could use it for personal use or professional use if he wants to.”
Though the exact logistics of this process and its ethical connotations are still in debate, it’s no doubt that this technology seems promising to help other individuals in similar situations who desire to express themselves through an audible speaking setup.
“People around me struggle to understand when I’m talking,” Kilmer stated, utilizing his new technology, “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 confidently, but now I can express myself again and bring these ideas to you and show you this part of myself once more. A part that was never truly gone. Just hiding away.”
While there is no official confirmation to date on what Kilmer’s voice will be used for next or whether or not it will be used in a professional capacity, the actor expressed his gratitude for the groundbreaking technology, stating: “I’m grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible. As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence and the side effects from throat cancer have made it difficult for others to understand me. The chance to narrate my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift.”
Source: The Washington Post, IndieWire
Photo Credit and Caption: Actor Val Kilmer attends the 2019 annual Thespians Go Hollywood Gala at Avalon Hollywood in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)