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AI revolutionises audiobooks, threatening human narrators’ livelihoods. shutterstock.com

The field of audiobooks is experiencing significant transformation due to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). 

AI technology can produce human-like recordings quickly and cost-effectively, which has led to a decline in business for many voice actors and narrators. Professionals such as Tanya Eby, who has been in the industry for 20 years, have seen their workloads cut in half, and bookings are reduced compared to previous years. Although other factors may contribute to this decline, AI is believed to be a significant factor.

AI-assisted recordings do not have a specific label, but thousands of existing audiobooks use “voices” generated from databases. Companies like DeepZen are at the forefront of this technology, creating a database of recorded voices from various actors speaking in different emotional tones. 

They adhere to ethical practices, obtaining proper licenses and paying royalties for the voices used. However, there are concerns about unethical practices in the industry, with some companies exploiting voice databases without proper authorization.

Traditional publishers, including the giants in the US audio book sector like Audible, are incorporating generative AI, which can create texts, images, videos, and voices without human intervention. They envision a future where human performances and text-to-speech generated content can coexist. Tech giants like Apple and Google are also entering the AI-narrated audio book market, aiming to make audio book creation more accessible to independent authors and small publishers.

While AI offers potential benefits in terms of cost reduction and access to a wider range of books, critics argue that storytelling should remain a human endeavor. AI-generated recordings are often criticised for lacking emotional connectivity compared to human performances. 

There is concern that people may grow accustomed to machine-generated versions, gradually replacing human narrations. Some professionals emphasise the importance of transparency, urging companies to disclose when AI-generated pieces are being used.

Despite the concerns, some believe that the growing audiobook market will benefit both AI and human voice actors, leading to increased opportunities and recordings. They argue that AI technology can help convert more books into audio format, benefiting voice actors financially.

Transparency and disclosure regarding AI-generated content are seen as crucial in maintaining ethical practices.

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