Legendary Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart, who passed away before I was even born, has been revived thanks to artificial intelligence.
No, he won’t be re-enacting his scenes in Vertigo or Rear Window. Instead, he’ll be reading you a Christmas bedtime story on a meditation app called ‘Calm’.
As news writers who work in a fast-paced newsroom, we thought that this was a perfect opportunity to slow down and breathe at work. So, we decided to test out the app ourselves and use it for a short office relaxation session.
“Hello, I’m James Stewart”
We downloaded the Calm app on our phone to begin. We were put on a seven-day free trial and had access to Calm Premium, which is a subscription tier that you need to access AI-generated Jimmy Stewart.
It’s A Wonderful Sleep Story is the name of the episode AI-generated Jimmy Stewart narrated – just in time for the festive season. The episode opened with Christmas bells, a piano ballad, and ‘synthetic Stewart’ entered.
“Well, hello, I’m James Stewart, but… you can call me Jimmy,” the synthetic voice greeted. “Tonight I’m going to tell you a story. A story all about a fellow called Montgomery, Stanley J. Montgomery… before I begin, whaddya say you make yourself more comfortable?” AI-generated Jimmy Stewart suggested.
He also asked us to close our eyes – because “this sleepy tale is sure to send you off to dreamland”. With that, we began to relax.
AI Jimmy Stewart: Wonderful?
It’s A Wonderful Sleep Story is 45 minutes long. The AI-generated narration by Jimmy Stewart started off impressive – convincing, even. However, ten to fifteen minutes into the story, the AI-generated narration soon came off as robotic. Although there was dialogue between characters, much of the dialogue was devoid of emotion.
Plenty of lines such as “His wife was there for him despite his losing streak”, “… mortgages don’t pay themselves, so things look pretty bleak” were flat in intonation.
The AI-generated narration also appeared to pause every five to six words on average, which made storytelling unnatural. For example, the line: Stanley took the long way back to give him time to think, and decided he’d delay things by stopping for a drink.
Was narrated like this:
Stanley took the long way back // to give him time to think // and decided he’d delay things // by stopping for a drink.
The line: He stepped into a twinkling bar he’d never seen before while jingling bells announced his entrance as he pushed the door.
Was narrated like this:
He stepped into a twinkling bar // he’d never seen before // while jingling bells announced his entrance // as he pushed the door.
Maybe the story itself was written in the style of a poem. Maybe the story was meant to be recited in this fashion. Some users might be lulled into sleep precisely because the story was presented in a monotonous way, but It’s A Wonderful Sleep Story by AI-generated Jimmy Stewart just did not have enough to send us into a deep slumber.
But for relaxation? Sure. We note that we mainly summoned AI-generated Jimmy Stewart for relaxation purposes in the office, and not the app’s intended sleep session. We also listened to the actor’s voice with earphones on, so the experience was satisfactory enough that we were able to tune out our surroundings and relax our clenched eyebrows and jaws.
Iconic celebs vs. AI
Silicon Valley’s AI hype is showing no signs of slowing down. So, it’s not surprising that a tech firm like Calm pursued the technology and fused it with their products to keep up with the times and deliver a novel experience to its users.
According to Variety’s exclusive, Stewart’s family and his estate, managed by MGM, gave consent to recreating the actor’s voice with AI. Calm reproduced his voice by partnering with Respeecher, an AI voice-cloning startup that worked on Disney’s Obi Wan Kenobi series and Sony’s God Of War: Ragnarok video game.
One of Stewart’s daughters, Kelly Stewart Harcourt, voiced her approval towards her late father’s AI voice. “We are excited for our dad to be the voice of Calm’s latest Sleep Story,” she said.
“It’s amazing what technology can do and wonderful to see Dad’s legacy live on this holiday season in new ways, like helping people find restful sleep and sweet dreams,” Harcourt added.
Months before Jimmy Stewart, legendary French singer Édith Piaf, who passed away in 1963, also found her likeness being replicated with AI for an upcoming biopic. Piaf, who was known for classics La Vie en Rose and Non, je ne regrette rien, saw her estate grant consent to production studios to replicate her image and vocals with AI.