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Spacely Sprockets is just around the corner

7 May 2024

I guess it is now easy to see how the industrial revolution affected so many low-skill, low-paid workers back in the day.

The comparison with the AI revolution is clear and just as machines took over the roles previously occupied by legions of labourers, AI is destroying the careers of many of today's more skilled workers.

We've seen how generative AI has enabled anyone to produce fantastic looking graphic and photorealistic art by simply typing in a description of what they want and perhaps refining the results in an iterative process Well now another role previously performed by humans is being kicked to the curb by AI.

I'm talking about narration.

Audio books have become a big thing in the past decade or two.

Not everyone has the desire or the time to read the printed word so a lot of people opt instead to listen to audiobooks.

This is a great option for those who spend a lot of time driving or commuting for instance. Instead of having to focus their attention on the written word, they can simply listen to someone reading that for them and thus multi-task quite effectively.

Although ebook readers have had text to speech capabilities right from the time of the very first Kindle, those voices were somewhat monotone and failed to convey the emotion that the words were intended to convey. They read for meaning, not for feeling.

Today however, modern AI systems are much better at converting the written word into a pleasing stream of audio that rarely stumbles or sounds unnatural.

In fact, the technology is now so good that Amazon has launched a tool that allows ebooks to be computer-narrated by AI and self-publishing writers are flocking to it.

The resulting audio files are being uploaded to the company's Audible service where they become accessible to a huge audience.

The problem, for narrators, is that whilst more top-tier authors will still employ the services of a human narrator, Audible has been literally flooded with AI-generated narrations that are putting real human narrators out of business.

The cost of having a narrator read and record your book can be quite significant so the AI option is very attractive to those who may only have a limited audience for their writing. However, for a great many narrators, this mid-range work is their bread and butter, the type of work that pays the bills.

Now that work is all but gone, thanks to AI.

It's not just the self-publishing writers who are using AI narration though. Apparently a number of major publishers, including the likes of Harper Collins, are already signing up with AI companies to have their printed works made into audio books. That could put even more human narrators out of business.

I know someone in the USA, who I've hired on a couple of occasions to do voice-actor work for my videos. He's been quite active in the book narration area for quite a while but it appears as if he's already feeling the pinch as computers steal the market for his work. He is just one of many who, I expect, will be looking for a new career soon.

Yes, we really are on the cusp of another revolution and, as is always the case, many career paths will effectively disappear, having been replaced by technology. I can't help think of that old 1960s TV cartoon series "The Jetsons", where George Jetson would turn up at Spacely Sprockets to simply press a button and go home -- such was the level of automation in this fictional future world.

Maybe not so fictional after all?

Carpe Diem folks!

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