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Val Kilmer has lost his speaking voice due to the intense treatments for his throat cancer, but the actor, 61, has been thriving artistically since going into remission.
And now thanks to a new audio technology company Sonantic, there is hope that Kilmer might be able to use his original speaking voice for upcoming projects and in his day-to-day life.
Last week, the U.K.-based startup revealed an A.I. program they have developed in partnership with Kilmer to restore his old voice.
CEO and co-founder Zeena Qureshi tells PEOPLE that "we see ourselves as the CGI of audio," she says. "We create the world's most expressive and realistic artificial voices, and we do this for the entertainment industry. So on one side we work with actors and we help them train basically an A.I. version of themselves that can edit and it can work for them."
For much more on Val Kilmer, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE now on newsstands
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Qureshi, whose background is in speech education and therapy, says the company was contacted last year by Kilmer's team to see if they could develop a program for the actor.
"It was just after the Val documentary had been filmed and put together," says Qureshi. "And Val's team was wondering if they could essentially just give him back his voice, [whether to be used for] his poetry, or his promotional material, just giving him something to continuously use for his craft, because he's such a creative person. And so that's what we did."
Sonantic typically works with existing footage, live or recorded audio to craft the audio A.I., but in Kilmer's case, they had less material to work with due to various film and copyright issues, and because the actor can't come in and record new audio for them.
"[Kilmer's] team provided us data and past recordings," says Qureshi. "And essentially what our tech does best is really try to understand that likeness and really match that nuance in detail."
Company CTO John Flynn says to think of Sonantic's A.I. as more sophisticated and evolved versions of existing voice technology like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, but their programs are personalized for each person to work with, create and edit themselves.
It's made for creative people. So it looks a little bit like Photoshop or video editing software that you might use," Flynn says. "It has a script editor at the top where you can type words in and then it has a timer at the bottom where you can move words around and hear the speech. It renders very quickly, you can control and change the pitch."
He continues: "What we do nowadays with our algorithms, we've got a lot of proprietary techniques and we have a thing called our voice engine, which is basically a special machine and deep learning algorithm to create the voices," Flynn explains. "We take the text and the speech and we just let the algorithm learn basically how to speak. We really try and teach the algorithms to focus on those highs and lows and all those expressive things [of speech]. And that's really what gets the best quality sound."
Qureshi and Flynn are hopeful that Kilmer's program will help the actor continue expressing himself for creative projects, and possibly day-to-day.
"We wanted to make sure that we made him feel proud and that he heard something that he liked," she says."
It could be used in a live situation as well," adds Flynn. "It's very fast, so we could definitely be repurposed for a more day-to-day use and more live use."
"When we played it for Val, I definitely found it incredibly emotional," says Flynn. "We've put so much work into it. We didn't really know how it was going to go down. I had heard the voice model lots and lots of times before that, but it was so much different playing it back to him and I got quite emotional about it. This feels really special and now that it's out there and we're getting a lot of nice feedback."