Computers with human brain cells could soon be a reality
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ElevenLabs, a startup that uses artificial intelligence software to replicate voices in more than two dozen languages, has raised a new round of funding that values the two-year-old company north of $1 billion. ElevenLabs said Monday that it raised $80 million in funding led by venture fund Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Sequoia Capital, Smash Capital and SV Angel. The company has raised $101 million to date.

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CEO Mati Staniszewski said the latest financing gives his startup a $1.1 billion valuation. Tech investors have poured money into startups developing AI tools that generate convincing audio and video, eying the business opportunities in advertising and media. But that’s alarmed researchers worried about the proliferation of deceptive deepfakes used in scams, pornography and in politics, particularly as nearly half the world’s population will have the option to vote in a national election in 2024.

Early last year, ElevenLabs said some were using its technology “for malicious purposes.”

Staniszewski said audio clips impersonating people without their consent are prohibited and would be removed. The 40-person startup has five people devoted to moderation and policy work and plans to hire more, he said. “Ninety-nine percent of use cases we are seeing are in the positive realm,” he said.

With its new funds, the company plans to expand beyond early uses in audiobooks and video games into media production, such as dubbing films or creating full-fledged AI actors, Staniszewski said. That’s a thorny ambition, however. The widespread use of AI in entertainment was a major sticking point in the recent Hollywood strikes. The rise of computer-generated audio, like the tools from ElevenLabs, has sparked concerns that the voices of actors or celebrities might be used without permission or payment.

Staniszewski stressed that he wanted to partner with the entertainment sector. In addition to the funding announcement, ElevenLabs is introducing a new service that lets certain people create an AI version of their voice, upload it to a library and then earn money when it’s used. This year, Staniszewski said, the key issue is: “How do we deploy this technology both safely and together with the industry?”

ElevenLabs has spoken to “most” of the larger talent agencies and entertainment unions, he added, although he didn’t elaborate on the talks. The startup is also working on features to automatically adjust the emotions and intonations of its AI audio. “The technology isn’t there yet,” said Staniszewski. “It’s something where we are investing a lot of research.”