AI Narrated Books May Be More Accessible, but Not for Everyone, Experts Say

The story is in nuances

  • Apple has released a tool that lets AI narrate books.
  • Experts say that AI often misses nuances when reading. 
  • In the future, AI might replace human narrators.
Someone laying on a wooden deck reading a book.

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Get ready for your next book to be read by software. 

Apple has launched Apple Books digital narration, which lets publishers automatically create high-quality audio generated by artificial intelligence (AI) from written text. It's part of a growing movement to outsource many previously human functions like art and driving to computers. 

"AI is useful for narration because it can generate speech that is highly realistic and lifelike, and can do so much faster and more cheaply than human narrators," Eldad Postan-Koren, the CEO of the AI firm told Lifewire in an email interview. "Additionally, AI can be trained to narrate in multiple languages and voices, making it a versatile tool for narration."

Story Time With AI

On its website, Apple describes the new digital narration feature as a bid to make "the creation of audiobooks more accessible to all" by slashing "the cost and complexity" of producing them for authors and publishers.

Natalie Monbiot, the head of strategy at the AI company Hour One, said via email that AI's use in narration allows for an infinite scale of audiobooks while lowering the cost of creation. 

"This not only makes audiobooks more accessible to both authors and listeners but could ultimately foster a boom in audio storytelling," Monbiot said. "As the use of AI in narration becomes more widespread, this technology could resonate strongly with niche communities while introducing many more professionals and fans into the ecosystem."

AI can also make audiobooks easier to produce. Marco Bellin, the CEO of Datacappy, said in an email interview with Lifewire that audio files make audiobooks much easier to change in post-production. Instead of calling back the human narrator to re-record segments, AI can change the file by simply updating the text. 

"Another benefit is the potential for audiobook listeners to customize their experience—if you want to read Mark Twain in a Southern accent and Jane Austin in a British accent," he added. "The consumer can even choose if he or she would like a male or female narrator."

The Downsides of AI Narration

One problem with using AI for narration is that a computer program might interpret the material differently than a human. 

"Think of Shakespeare's plays," tech advisor Vaclav Vincalek said in an email. "Actors spend years of classical training to learn how to perform their plays. Could AI read the plays the way an actor would? I don't think there's the desire to replace humans, actually. The objective is to provide the content to the masses in a 'good enough' format. For example, when someone uses Google translate, are the translations ever perfect? No, they are simply 'good enough.' There are also many words and abbreviations that AI needs to know how to pronounce."

Someone seated and leaning against a tree in a park while petting a dog and listening to an audio book.

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If AI technology advances, it might replace human narrators, some observers say. But Monbiot argued that "AI will not replace human narration—it will scale and augment it, making more narrated content available and accessible in areas such as price and translation localization."

Vincalek said he's not sure that AI will replace humans in the narration world. "Given people's different personalities, some will clearly prefer a book read by a master storyteller, while others are happy just listening to a computer read the book," he added. "Maybe the authors will flat out refuse any AI readings of their books, believing a human will better understand the material."

In the future, Postan-Koren said he expects to see AI improve in its ability to generate realistic speech and more advanced capabilities, such as interpreting and understanding the speech's content. Additionally, we can expect more widespread adoption of AI for narration in news broadcasts, e-learning, and other forms of content.

"The future of AI for narration will probably include avatars with realistic facial expressions and voice inflection," Bellin said. "The privacy concerns will evolve when the AI is trained to mimic specific individuals for nefarious reasons."

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