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Stellaris director insists “ethical use of AI is very important to us” after generating voices in latest DLC

“We're pretty good at exploring dystopian sci-fi and don't want to end up there ourselves”

A pointy ship passes in front of a planet in Stellaris' The Machine Age expansion
Image credit: Paradox

The director of Paradox’s grand sci-fi strategy game Stellaris has insisted that the studio’s use of any AI-generated assets will be “ethical”, after revealing that latest expansion The Machine Age features AI voices for characters and used AI-generated art and text during its development.

Stephen ‘Eladrin’ Muray took to the game’s subreddit to respond to discussion and concerns from players about The Machine Age’s disclaimer on Steam that “generative AI technologies [were used] during the creation of some assets”, including two voices - an in-universe AI antagonist and player advisor - heard in the final release.

Muray clarified that the developers didn’t use any AI-generated artwork found in the final expansion or for making concept art (“We've got a couple of awesome concept artists on staff for that”), while acknowledging that “a couple” of AI-generated images might have been part of the team’s mood boards or similar during development.

“Personally, I use image generation tools to make basic sketches of things the System Designers and I are thinking of since I very much suck at art, but am pretty decent at getting computers to do what we're thinking,” Murray said. “The artists then take our ideas and might or might not use them as inspiration to make final assets. None of those design images go into the game.”

Murray also sought to explain the Steam disclaimer that “typically [the use of AI technologies] involves the ideation of content and visual reference material”, mentioning that the team use AI-generated text to “break writer’s block” by - per Muray’s example - asking for suggestions for what a player might find in a mysterious box and using those prompts as “inspiration”.

“None of the results or generated text go into the game,” Muray repeated, with the game’s disclaimer additionally claiming that “these elements represent a minor component of the overall development”.

The player opens a menu for the Synaptic Lathe in Stellaris' The Machine Age expansion
Image credit: Paradox

What’s likely to be more contentious are AI-created elements that are found in the final release, notably two voices - the Synthetic Queen Cetana, who is an in-universe AI, plus an advisor to the player - generated by AI.

Muray insisted that the developers have “got some strict guidelines in place on how we can use AI tools legally and ethically that we abide by”, claiming that the human voice actors upon whom the generative AI model was based explicitly signed up for their use in AI and receive royalties for any AI voice lines created based on their samples.

“Ethical use of AI technology is very important to us - we're pretty good at exploring dystopian sci-fi and don't want to end up there ourselves,” Muray wrote, adding that a forthcoming developer diary would further detail the use of AI-generated voices.

Stellaris, of course, is not the first game to make use of the controversial tech, with multiplayer shooter The Finals generating commentary using AI and Uncover the Smoking Gun dressing up a ChatGPT text prompt as a murder-mystery game. Still, AI remains especially divisive - and AI-generated voices especially so, with the decision of actors’ union SAG-AFTRA to permit AI voice replicas earlier this year rightfully upsetting the humans upon whose talent and hard work the soulless models are built - often without due recompense.

That ongoing controversy can already been seen in The Machine Age’s recent Steam reviews, with a number of players criticising the decision to utilise generative AI in any form - despite Muray’s belief that it’s been handled in an “ethical” way.

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