Apple is rolling out audiobooks narrated by artificial intelligence, reports the Guardian’s Leyland Cecco.
The company recently unveiled a series of fiction and romance audiobooks featuring “digital narration” on its Apple Books platform, which allows readers to browse and buy e-books and audiobooks.
The two current A.I. narrators are called Madison, a soprano, and Jackson, a baritone, per Apple’s website. In the future, the company plans to also offer A.I.-narrated nonfiction and self-development audiobooks and will be rolling out two additional digital voices named Helena and Mitchell.
According to the Guardian, Apple approached independent publishers in recent months and asked them to participate in its digital narration initiative. The company said that it would cover the costs of production and give authors royalties from the sales. In return, publishers were required to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Apple says it aims to empower independent authors and small publishers, who may not be able to afford or tackle the complex production process required to transform their text into audio. The company wants to make the creation of audiobooks “more accessible to all.”
“Digitally narrated titles are a valuable complement to professionally narrated audiobooks, and will help bring audio to as many books and as many people as possible,” the company writes on its website. “Apple Books remains committed to celebrating and showcasing the magic of human narration and will continue to grow the human-narrated audiobook catalog.”
But some in the publishing industry are skeptical about replacing human narrators—often professional voice actors or the authors themselves—with A.I. They say that audiobooks are a form of art, and that human narrators help enhance the experience.
“Companies see the audiobooks market and that there’s money to be made,” says Canadian literary agent Carly Watters to the Guardian. “They want to make content. But that’s all it is. It’s not what customers want to listen to. There’s so much value in the narration and the storytelling.”
The apprehension about A.I. technology is not limited to the publishing industry. Particularly in recent months, A.I. has been looming ever larger in the art world, leading to concerns that technology will someday replace human artists altogether. Critics are already concerned that certain products powered by A.I. are stealing from artists, as they are trained on images from across the internet that were created by humans.
As Jon Porter writes for the Verge, further integration of A.I. into audiobooks could have “potentially huge implications for the multi-billion dollar” industry. How many other audiobook platforms will follow Apple’s lead remains to be seen. Amazon, for instance, requires audiobooks on its Audible platform to be narrated by humans. Google Play, on the other hand, already offers A.I. narration tools of its own.