Last night, I felt restless, so what did I do? I opened up my favorite meditation and sleep application, Calm, and picked a sleep story to play on the Bluetooth speaker. I typically go for one of my favorites, such as “Daddy Pig Reads the Wonderful World of Concrete.” But to my surprise, I found a new one, narrated by the great American actor Jimmy Stewart.
Jimmy Stewart… Didn’t he die in 1997?
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No, Calm did not find an old recording to adapt to its app, as it has done with Bob Ross. Instead, the company enlisted the help of Respeecher, a voice cloning software company that involved a voice actor and AI technology to bring the narration to life.
The company is also known for recreating the voices of Luke Skywalker for “The Mandalorian” TV series and Darth Vader for the series “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Stewart’s family and estate, whose likeness is managed by CMG Worldwide, fully approved of the AI voice adaptation.
The 45-minute Calm story, “It’s a Wonderful Sleep Story,” has Jimmy Stewart narrating a tale about a downtrodden technology entrepreneur, Stanley J. Montgomery — not unlike George Bailey, the small-town banker, Stewart portrays in the 1946 Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The synthetic Stewart recites the tale in rhyme and verse to the backdrop of calming, sleepy, floating music. Calm posted this preview to Instagram below.
It’s hypnotizing and, dare I say, spookily effective. I don’t remember listening to the entire thing, and I know it knocked my wife out pretty quickly.
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There’s certainly a very uncanny valley feeling hearing the voice of someone who has departed. However, Stewart has been gone long enough that many people listening to it will likely feel nostalgia rather than shock.
I’m unsure how realistic the Stewart voice is, and the cadence is odd. But it works, given the rhyme and intonation of the story and desired application. Still, these AI voice actors have a lot of potential for further exploration, especially by Calm. After Stewart, what is next, Burl Ives, with a new Rudolph story? Boris Karloff with a modern Grinch tale? I’m looking forward to finding out.