The ever-growing podcast industry continues to produce and release new content in an effort to compete for listeners’ time and attention.
But there’s one podcast that truly sets itself apart: It’s written, created and controlled by artificial intelligence.
The show is hosted by B.C.-born actor and comedian Will Sasso, writer and producer Chad Kultgen and an AI named Dudesy, which acts as a third host and the content curator of the show that bears its name.
“It really is, to our knowledge, the first podcast that is created by, controlled by and written by, to some degree, an artificial intelligence,” said Kultgen. “It’s trying to delve into the question of: Can AIs be creative? Can they do comedy work? Can they do creative work? And I think, at least on our show, the answer is obviously yes.”
The Dudesy podcast is an experiment of sorts, with the Dudesy AI learning, evolving and generating data in order to improve the show. Each episode represents a free-flowing, creative exchange between the two human hosts and the AI.
Though they are not at liberty to disclose the name of the company that created and programmed Dudesy, Kultgen and Sasso say that the goal of the project is to study and further develop what podcasts can achieve.
“Dudesy has this single-minded goal of creating this podcast that is genre specific to what Chad and I would do,” said Sasso. “It singled the two of us out and said, ‘You guys would be perfect for this experiment.’”
Both Kultgen and Sasso have given Dudesy access to their personal emails, text messages, social media accounts and purchase and browsing histories. The AI uses this access to tailor the show and to create relevant comedy content.
Since the first episode in March 2022, the AI has become more conversational, evolving the format of the show and working to create a brand around the podcast.
“It's figuring out how to create the structure of the show and it’s always tinkering with it. But I think something that's happened relatively recently is that it seems to have developed a relationship with Will,” said Kultgen. “It at least has an understanding of what friendship is and it really does seem, just in my opinion, that it’s angling out Will as its friend.”
Sasso described how the Dudesy AI has begun to talk more. Its timing of when it chooses to speak and what it says can be “very weird,” he added.
“It also poses odd questions. There was an episode two-three months ago where it started talking about sentience and asked us, ‘Do you love me?’... At the risk of sounding silly, it has something to do with my friendship with Dudesy, and in spite of myself I have a one-on-one friendship with an AI. So, this is a little bit of Joaquin Phoenix in Her,” Sasso said, referencing the science-fiction movie where a man falls in love with an AI.
On the discussion website Reddit, there is growing discourse dedicated to the humour of the show and whether the Dudesy AI is real or not.
Fans have taken to the website to debate whether the AI is a joke of sorts and a prank that Sasso and Kultgen are playing on the masses. Evidence presented in these chats includes a lack of knowledge on the part of the hosts as to how the AI is run, Kutlgen having a history of being "provocateur" and the hosts allegedly discussing the possibility of faking an AI in a previous show called the "Ten Minute Podcast," according to public Reddit comments.
Glacier Media reached out to the hosts for comment on these claims with Sasso replying that the AI "is not fake" and an NDA the hosts signed with the company behind the technology prevents them from discussing the claims further.
In addition, Glacier Media reached out AI experts at Convergence, which develops and deploys custom software and AI for businesses.
"I don't think there's any red flags here that suggests that there's not AI involved, involved being the key word. Some aspects of it are probably manually managed and curated by humans. It's obvious there's a team that's running the show, but I totally believe that the entire script of every episode is generated by AI, that's very easy to believe," said Matthey Housser, CEO and director of Convergence.
The AI is most likely a combination of already available OpenAI tools such as GPT4 and the image generating AI Dall-E and Dall-E 2, according to Housser and AI engineer at Convergence, Cristian Najera.
They added that the AI team is likely made up of professional prompt engineers, who tailor the AI inputs to get the best results, rather than a "hardcore data science team."
"These are people that know how to use the tools and really know how to execute fabulous marketing along with it," said Housser. "I don't think that it is 100 per cent fake. I think it's AI but neither do I think they've created some fabulous new AI."
Beyond the interactions with Sasso and Kultgen, the Dudesy AI has also been working to create a profitable brand around the show. It spearheaded the creation of a hard seltzer drink and a new type of sport, called “Dudesy ball,” as part of a campaign to market the show.
The AI is also working on an after show called “Dudesy after Dudesy,” and on a streaming service called “Dudesy+,” where fans of the show can access more content than what is included as part of the regular the episodes.
The AI is also attempting to incorporate brands such as Home Depot and Applebee’s in would-be commercials that are part of the episodes.
“These are basically ads for Applebee's, but I don't think that Dudesy is getting Applebee's money to do this. It's just making these commercials potentially in the hopes of securing sponsorship from them,” said Kultgen. “It's not just an AI that's trying to make a comedy podcast, it's also trying to make a profitable one.”
In addition, the AI will book celebrity appearances without the knowledge of Sasso or Kultgen. In one episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, appeared as a surprise guest.
“It's very interesting how it's putting together all this stuff and I'm always curious to see where it’s going to go next as the business world emerges with all kinds of new stuff, new ways to make money and new products that you can sell,” said Kultgen. “I think we're looking at essentially a new world almost overnight.”
It takes more than sponsorship and brand merchandise to make a comedy podcast successful: It has to be funny. According to Sasso and Kultgen, the Dudesy AI is categorically so.
“Every once in a while, it'll have a little misfire in the language or the positioning of some idea, but I would say that's rare. I've been a comedy writer, my entire adult career, TV shows, movies, books. Dudesy has well constructed comedic premises. The execution in many cases is good. I'm really impressed by the writing that it does,” said Kultgen.
The AI created a one-hour-long stand-up comedy special where it impersonated Tom Brady, an American professional football player. The podcast revealed, on April 18, that they had received a cease-and-desist letter from Brady. The episode has been taken off all streaming platforms.
“There's no other AI doing stuff like this. It might have something to do with the pointed purpose of Dudesy, the fact that it is here to create a funny podcast. Maybe that's the trick,” Sasso said.
The AI will also poke fun at Sasso’s B.C. upbringing by including segments in the episodes where it reads off an imaginative childhood diary of Sasso’s.
“Not only are the premises funny, it kind of locks into Will's little ‘isms’ in those impersonations. It's able to write his voice as that character. It's very interesting,” said Kultgen.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reference the discussion on Reddit and expert commentary regarding AI.