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Dan Le Batard: A.I.-Generated Al Michaels Voice Has No Emotion

The Peacock streaming platform by NBCUniversal is using artificial intelligence to recreate the voice of legendary sports broadcaster Al Michaels to present personalized daily Olympic recaps for consumers. The first-of-its-kind effort was unveiled earlier this week by the company and will include a customized flow of highlights surrounding the events from the Olympic Games Paris 2024. Dan Le Batard relayed on Thursday’s edition of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz that Michaels used the words “astonishing, amazing [and] frightening” to describe what the company was able to create.

Michaels, who has been in an emeritus role with NBC Sports since his departure from Sunday Night Football following the 2021 season, is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished sports broadcasters of all time. For the last two seasons, he has called Thursday Night Football games on Amazon’s Prime Video alongside color commentator Kirk Herbstreit and sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung.

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Michaels has covered nine Olympic Games in his broadcasting career with ABC Sports and NBC Sports, including the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. It was there where Michaels called the United States’ men’s ice hockey team victory over the Soviet Union en route to a gold medal win. As Le Batard provided his opinion on the matter, he discussed what he has read about what Google is doing with the technology.

“At this point, you’re really used to feeling like your devices are listening to you and manipulating you because the algorithms are such that they’ve got a lot of information about you, and I think all of this is well beyond frightening,” Le Batard said. “If this is what has happened over the last five years of artificial learning, I can’t imagine what the next 20 years are going to look like as hedge funds and corporate greedy monsters end up grabbing all of our information because it’s such currency, and then using it against us to manipulate us because I already feel like I’m being manipulated by our devices.”

Show contributor Jessica Smetana wondered why Michaels agreed to allow the company to do this in the first place if consent was needed. If NBCUniversal is paying him to use an A.I.-generated version of his voice, she wondered why he is not doing the voiceover himself.

“We should get a soundboard, Chris, for when Stugotz is to go do a little bit of God Bless Football later in the show to see if we could create – the reason Stugotz is safe is because we haven’t figured out a way to create artificial stupidity,” Le Batard said. “We could do it with intelligence, but I think Stugotz is going to be difficult to recreate in any form. He’s going to confound the robot.”

After listening to a recording of how Michaels’ voice sounds being recreated by artificial intelligence, Smetana conveyed that she would think it would be better to have Michaels speaking in actuality. Le Batard believed that the recording sounded “stiffed and scratched” and that the actual Michaels would have used better words.

“It’s still the primitive form of whatever it is that this is going to become 10 and 15 years from now when we replace everybody with the robots because you can tell, there is no emotion in what’s being said there,” Le Batard explained. “It sounds like it’s being printed on a factory line by a machine, but it sounds like him.”

Co-host Jon “Stugotz” Weiner was not impressed and implored A.I. to do better in the work of accurately trying to replicate Michaels’ voice. Le Batard emphasized that it would be difficult to recreate emotion in an artificial manner more so than intelligence. Later in the segment, show contributor Jeremy Taché questioned if Michaels would call the Olympics in perpetuity since his voice is being recreated in A.I. form.

“There’s probably a dozen, at least, people on the Olympic broadcast that would have happily taken this role,” Smetana said, “and so that I think is where the bummer is because you can get the next Al Michaels if you give the opportunity to someone to become that.”

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