AI, Voice Actors, and the Illusion of Authenticity on the 70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board Commentary
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AI, Voice Actors, and the Illusion of Authenticity on the 70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board
Edited by: JURIST Staff

A recent project combined historic court transcripts, voice actors, and AI to breathe new life into Brown v. Board of Education — the Supreme Court case decided 70 years ago today that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional.

The project used voice-acting performances in an effort to mimic the tones and courtroom setting of the individuals who argued and ultimately handed down the ruling, which fundamentally shifted the legal framework underpinning racial inequality in the US.

What we can’t know is whether the emphases in the audio clone truly matches those of the original speakers. When watching a film, we can recognize when an actor is performing; with audio cloning, this distinction is not so clear-cut. Intellectually, we know these words are filtered through the actor’s interpretation, but with AI involved, it can be difficult to pinpoint where interpretation ends and reality begins.

This discrepancy is troubling.

People might believe these cloned voices and intonations are authentic representations of the actual events. This could mislead those who are less skeptical or more inclined to accept the cloned audio as genuine. I can imagine a 6th grader hearing this and thinking that’s exactly how Thurgood Marshall or Earl Warren sounded on that day. Given current technology, we might even skip the actors altogether. Instead, we could use text and scraped audio of the protagonists from sources like YouTube and have AI recreate the entire thing. Then, a technician could decide where the emphasis should be, essentially playing God with the intonations.

Using such a significant case for an audio deepfake is deeply troubling. Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned — born 68 years ago and now shaking my head on this 70th anniversary. But it does feel like there is nothing new under the sun, and this audio deep fake is merely a technological reproduction of the hierarchies that Brown v. Board of Education sought to dismantle. As we embrace new technologies, we must tread carefully, ensuring that we preserve the integrity and authenticity of our historical narratives.

Benjamin G. Davis is Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Toledo College of Law.

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