In a technological leap that has sparked both awe and apprehension, Project Gutenberg, the world’s oldest digital library, has utilized artificial intelligence (AI) to convert thousands of ebooks into audiobooks, sidestepping the time-consuming and costly necessity of employing human readers. A development that has provoked anxiety among actors currently striking in the US for the first time in 40 years, as they fear such AI applications could undermine their livelihoods.
Working in collaboration with Microsoft and MIT, Project Gutenberg employed synthetic speech technology to transform over 5,000 ebooks from its free, open-access collection into AI-read audiobooks. These are now available on platforms such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, offering an eclectic range of titles, all under open-license. While the AI voice – a youthful male with an American accent – delivers a fairly naturalistic reading experience, it lacks the depth and versatility that human actors bring to their readings, a shortfall that has been highlighted in comparison with renowned audiobook narrator, Stephen Fry.
AI Transforms Ebooks into Audiobooks, Sparking Concern Among Actors
AI Revolutionizing Audiobooks
Project Gutenberg, the world’s oldest digital library, has successfully converted over 5,000 ebooks into audiobooks leveraging artificial intelligence (AI). This revolutionary process, carried out in collaboration with Microsoft and MIT, bypasses the conventional and costlier method of hiring human readers. The audiobooks, produced using synthetic speech technology, feature a youthful male voice with an American accent. They are available for free on platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts.
Impact on Actors’ Careers
However, this innovative application of AI has caused concern among actors in the US, many of whom are currently on strike for the first time in four decades. They fear that such AI technologies may threaten their career prospects. While the AI reader lacks the versatility and depth human actors offer, its scalability and efficiency present a clear challenge to traditional voice work.
AI Audiobook Creation Methodology
The methodology used by Project Gutenberg was outlined in a report titled "Large-Scale Automatic Audiobook Creation". The system offers users the ability to customize the speaking speed, style, and emotional intonation of the audiobook. Furthermore, it can even match a desired voice using a small sample of audio, which exemplifies how far AI technology has come in mimicking human speech.
Actors’ Struggle for AI Protections
Artificial intelligence has been a central issue in the ongoing US actors’ strike. The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have been striking since July 14, seeking not just improved wages and shares of residuals, but also protections against AI technology. They want to safeguard against the creation of "digital replicas" of actors, which include both their image and voice, without their consent. Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA president, has highlighted the "existential threat" AI poses to their work, especially given the current lack of regulation.
The transformation of ebooks into audiobooks using AI symbolizes a dramatic shift in the digital landscape. While it threatens the livelihood of actors, it also offers a cost-effective and scalable solution for the creation of audiobooks. It’s clear that as AI continues to advance, we need to address the ethical and employment implications promptly. A balance must be struck to ensure that technology aids human progress without compromising individuals’ rights and livelihoods.