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AI Audiobooks: Technology is decimating the arts, one industry at a time

AI domination is looming.

Caitlin Hall


AI hand automating future Arts and Entertainment

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Recently, Apple deployed a new selection of AI-narrated audiobooks. Perhaps in anticipation of a backlash and divided opinions, the launch was remarkably quiet. 

The rise of AI-generated art has become a huge problem in creative spaces, with reports of these generators plagiarising real artists’ work. It’s also a cheap way for businesses to utilise visuals in their marketing, without having to pay artists accordingly. Publishing company Tor ‘accidentally’ used AI art on the cover of popular sci-fi author Christopher Paolini’s new release, Fractal Noise. Tor spoke out after receiving negative comments on social media, claiming that the image was from a ‘reputable stock house’, and that they hadn’t realised the visual was AI-generated. However, due to ‘production constraints’ (read: the amount of money they’d already sunk into printed copies of the book), Tor went ahead with the cover. 

The Guardian reports that Apple’s move could spell the end of human narrators, as companies attempt to meet the increased audiobook demand as cheaply as they can. ‘Audiobook sales last year jumped 25%, bringing in more than $1.5bn.’ There’s money in that there market.

I love listening to audiobooks. It allows me to read more and be entertained while I’m performing menial activities that don’t require much concentration, such as cooking, showering, or driving to a familiar place. Of the seventy books I read last year, twenty-six were audiobooks. In my opinion, the best audiobooks I’ve ever read had a full cast of narrators. Titles like Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, The One by John Marrs, and Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel were fantastic reading experiences for me, as each perspective in the novel was narrated by a different actor. My favourite book of the year was Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which I read via audiobook. The narrator, actress Kerry Fox, read the story so poetically, her voiced laced with nostalgia, memory, and longing. Her reading managed to bring out themes of the story that I might have overlooked if I was reading it physically, and I was fully immersed in the story. Could that experience ever be replicated by AI? 

We connect with fiction because it allows us to escape our own lives for a while. We can glean new experiences by living vicariously through the eyes of another. That a story is narrated to me by another human being continues to elevate the experience. If Siri, Alexa, or Google Home tried to read me a story, with their boring, robotic, monotonous ‘voices’, I’d turn it straight off. 

If audiobook narrators are going the way of the dodo, what’s next for voice actors in general? Will companies employ robots to voice the next animated Disney feature, all in the name of saving money? With the power of technology, will we soon do away with actors altogether? The same CGI used to age up/down actors in movies like The Irishman or Indiana Jones 5 could be used across the board to plaster a famous actor’s face on a robot, without needing to pay their salary for the entire shoot. If AI can read audiobooks, it likely has the power to make music. Our Top 40 charts could be infiltrated by AI musicians. 

This comes as the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced plans to ensure pupils study maths until age 18. Early in his career, Sunak worked as an analyst for investment bank Goldman Sachs, before he became a partner at a hedge fund management firm. In April, the former Chancellor came under fire for his billionaire wife’s non-dom tax status. Furthermore, in July last year, a clip resurfaced of Sunak admitting he doesn’t have any working class friends. He’s probably spent his entire life surrounded by other investment-banker, Eton/Oxford/Cambridge-attending, Economics graduates, who need a good numeric education to count all their millions. Of course someone like this would believe we need to study maths to age 18, but at what cost? Should our literacy levels slip instead? Reading is barely encouraged in schools as it is, and art and design courses have had their budgets drastically cut

Why is maths education Sunak’s priority at the moment anyway? Considering that the collapse of the NHS is imminent, many people believe that the Prime Minister’s priorities are misplaced. 

Much of the business interest in AI-generated art is the ability to remove artists from the deal—i.e. obtaining the art without having to pay the artist. For years, artists have lamented the difficulty of earning money from their work. You wouldn’t go into a shop and ask to take a product home without paying for it, yet artists constantly get ‘customers’ asking for freebies in exchange for exposure, promotion, or just a heartfelt thanks. Apple wouldn’t sell you an iPhone for a discount just because you were buying it for your child’s birthday, and the same sentiment should apply to artists and their work. 

The world is already in dire straits at the moment; if we let art and creativity slip away from us, it would become a very bleak existence indeed. 

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