AI Is Now Advanced Enough To Blow Al Michaels’s Mind

For all the ways in which AI is not improving, it is crucially also not getting better at plagiarizing. Credit where it’s due, no previous technology has given us such a convincing version of Homer Simpson singing Underworld’s “Born Slippy.” But because it fundamentally cannot do any of the things that humans do, there is the sense that it’s already bumping up against a lavishly gilded, basically existential ceiling. A great deal of this hustle depends upon obscuring or ignoring the extremely important differences between creating something and merely generating it, and between actually answering a question and simply extruding something shaped like a response. AI can only imitate people, and some mostly but not yet entirely vestigial laws allow people not to be imitated in those ways unless they consent to it. Longtime broadcaster Al Michaels is willing to get on board.

“When I was approached about this, I was skeptical but obviously curious,” Michaels said about Wednesday’s announcement that NBC will introduce a new product to deliver a personalized 10-minute highlight reel of personalized 2024 Olympic sports narrated, sort of, by Michaels. According to Vulture’s Eric Vilas-Boas, Your Daily Olympic Recap on Peacock “will mine Michaels’s long sportscasting career at NBC to synthesize his intonations and pair that synthesized commentary with video from the Olympic events that aired the previous day.” Michaels was sufficiently pleased with the sound of his own voice, or his “own” “voice,” to sign off. A stilted and temporary universe of audiovisual delights awaits the community of speed-climbing and javelin aficionados who also use Peacock’s iPad app.

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The resulting technology seems … pretty fucking AI, honestly. It sounds strikingly like Al Michaels without really quite seeming like Al Michaels; it is accurate, but not right. Everyone who has watched sports on TV knows what Al Michaels sounds like, and this does indeed “sound like” Al Michaels. That somehow only underscores the ways in which it is self-evidently not Al Michaels.

More fascinating is how this new AI technology won over the 79-year-old Michaels, which Vanity Fair‘s Tom Kludt lays out in detail. “People are being thrown curveballs,” Michaels said. “Can this be manipulated to the point where people are getting either catfished or gaslighted?” These are good questions. To answer them, Kludt reports, Michaels conducted a “personal experiment”:

He went on ChatGPT and asked it to generate 10 plotlines for a modern-day adaptation of the 1950s-era sitcom Father Knows Best. Within seconds, the bot served up a variety of contemporary scenarios—one about the dad’s futile efforts to fix the Wi-Fi router, another about the dad enjoying unexpected viral fame after his kids teach him the ins and outs of social media. Michaels said he was “amazed and frightened at the same time.”

“I’m going, There has to be a man inside there. There’s a person inside there,” he marveled. “It knows what [the show] was. It takes the plot and advances it to 2024.”

Vanity Fair

The takeaway here is that if Al Michaels saw the various Twitter accounts that contemplate what a modern-day Seinfeld would look like, he might enter a state of shock. It’s terrible to contemplate what might befall the broadcasting legend if he were exposed to Joe Biden’s deepfaked ode to low-quality weed. I may disagree with him on whether it’s okay to put lettuce on a burger, but Michaels is the icon who produced the rich body of work that this technology is brazenly jacking for beats. Ultimately the decision to give up his voice is his own, but that doesn’t make it feel any less dreary.

“It’s an odd way to transition to something,” Michaels told Kludt. “Not calling the events, not really recording anything—[but] it does keep me somewhat attached to the Olympic Games.” The word “somewhat” does a lot of work there, as it does all throughout the broader AI conversation. If how you feel about this technology is ultimately about what you’ll consent to find amazing, at least this was enough to wow Al Michaels.

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