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  • Robert Farago

AI's Grimes Against Nature

How green is her VALL-E?

You can upload a voice sample onto VALL-E and prompt the program to say “I saw Susie sitting in a shoe shine shop.” Alternatively, you can hook-up VALL-E to your phone, call the voice donor’s elderly parents and type in the words “Mom? Dad? I’m in serious trouble. I need money!

True story. Another chapter in the AI Book of Unanticipated Consequences? Methinks the Mountain Dew drinkers behind VALL-E had a PornHub perspective (i.e., they saw it coming).

“This page is for research demonstration purposes only,” the Microsoft-sponsored scientific paper warns. If that wasn’t emphatic enough to stop a nerd from finding a way to fuck things up, the paper’s authors added this stop, hey, what’s that sound disclaimer/warning.

Ethics Statement

Since VALL-E could synthesize speech that maintains speaker identity, it may carry potential risks in misuse of the model, such as spoofing voice identification or impersonating a specific speaker. We conducted the experiments under the assumption that the user agree to be the target speaker in speech synthesis. If the model is generalized to unseen speakers in the real world, it should include a protocol to ensure that the speaker approves the use of their voice and a synthesized speech detection model.

Translation: VALL-E can be used for evil. We pretended it wasn’t true. But it is true and someone should do something about it, protocol-wise. We don’t know what that is. Have a nice day!

This non mea culpa was written by members of The Daughters of the American Revolution. Or not. Chengyi Wang, Sanyuan Chen, Yu Wu, Ziqiang Zhang, Long Zhou, Shujie Liu, Zhuo Chen, Yanqing Liu, Huaming Wang, Jinyu Li, Lei He, Sheng Zhao, and Furu Wei are the gender unspecified researchers involved.

Assuming the developers aren’t residents of The People’s Republic of China, the list brings to mind General Turgidson’s assurance to President Muffley (in Dr. Strangelove): “Our Nazis are better than their Nazis.”

Don’t get me wrong: these AI guys aren’t monsters. They’re just building them.

Singer songwriter Grimes isn’t a monster. How could she be? She’s Canadian. That said, Grimes has had some monster hits; Oblivion and Genesis racked-up a collective 161m YouTube views. More than a decade after her debut, people still pay to hear Grimes perform.

Meh. Claire Elise Boucher is tired of all that singing. She’s found a way to outsource her vocalizing and stay relevant in the great left-leaning, shit-stirring, weird clothing wearing Madonna tradition. Yup. You guessed it. VALL-E.

“The musician Grimes is inviting creators to use AI-generated versions of her voice to make new music,” reports. “The pop singer also said she would ‘split 50% royalties on any successful AI generated song that uses my voice.’”

Setting aside the legal clusterfuck that will entail, we’re deep into trigger warning territory. NPR’s happy hunting ground.

Neither Boucher or her team responded to NPR's questions about what she might do in cases where someone might make a song with objectionable, racist or violent lyrics. But she addressed the issue in a subsequent tweet, saying they "may do copyright takedowns ONLY for rly rly toxic lyrics w grimes voice." She pleaded with creators to not be "the worst." "That's the only rule," she wrote. "Rly don't like to do a rule but don't wanna be responsible for a Nazi anthem unless it's somehow in jest a la producers I guess. - wud prefer avoiding political stuff but If it's a small meme with ur friends we prob won't penalize that. Probably just if smthn is viral and anti abortion or smthn like that."

A funny Nazi anthem? Entschuldigung? The Producers’ swastika-laden spoof was a musical. But hey, life is life. Just don’t be pro-life, m’kay? Or smthn.

Two factors account for Grimes giving all and sundry the right to walk her voice through the VALL-E of death. Mrs. Musk doesn’t need money and AI renders copyright law moot (you can’t stop the signal).

In a world where anything can be simulated, no one owns themselves. Not their words, voice or image. People are worrying about AI replacing their jobs. VALL-E shows us that AI will replace us in more important ways.

As anti-war comic strip writer Pogo said, we have met the enemy and he is us. Literally.

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