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Embracing AI narration
March 6, 2020
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by Ivan Raconteur

The Literally Public Relations Blog announced this week that the future of audiobooks is artificial intelligence (AI).

This piqued my interest, because I listen to audiobooks nearly every day.

I started this when days spent in front of a computer screen or editing copy changed reading at the end of the day from the pleasant experience it had always been to a burden, because of the strain on my eyes.

I have always found reading before I go to sleep a good transition that helps me relax.

When age and over-use started to take a toll on my eyes, I wasn’t willing to give up my daily dose of reading for pleasure, so I looked for alternatives.

Audio books were a natural fit.

Listening to an audio book provides much of the same enjoyment of reading, but I can do it while resting my eyes.

Audio books are widely available, and many choices can be checked out digitally through local libraries.

However, not all audiobooks are created equal. I discovered fairly quickly that I enjoyed some readers more than others. In fact, when it comes to my favorite authors, I am very particular about who is doing the reading.

I suppose once I am used to hearing familiar characters read a certain way, it can be disconcerting to hear them read a different way, much like seeing a new actor interpret a role might seem less satisfying if we liked the way it was done the first time we saw a piece performed.

That leads me to question whether or not I will like audiobooks created using AI.

According to the Literally Public Relations Blog, “British company DeepZen (www.deepzen.io) produces and co-publishes audiobooks and other voice content using Artificial Intelligence that replicates the human voice to create a listening experience that is virtually indistinguishable from traditionally-narrated audio.”

That seemed like a rather bold statement, based on some of the digital voices I have heard in the past.

I wanted to find out for myself.

I clicked the links that were thoughtfully provided in the piece, and I have to say, I was impressed.

Although not perfect, the voices I listened to in the samples were quite good. They were easily as good as some of the human readers I have heard in the past, and I had no difficulty in concluding that I would be able to listen to a book read by these voices.

They have a much more natural sound than the digital voices I had heard previously, and instead of being flat, they include the kinds of natural inflections and pauses that a human reader would provide, and, for the most part, the inflections and phrasing seemed to fit the copy in a logical way.

I was skeptical at first, but I will definitely explore the world of AI narration in more depth.

The announcement notes, “DeepZen’s digitally narrated titles are the first to gain broad acceptance and distribution from major re-sellers including Apple Books, GooglePlay, Rakuten Kobo and subscription services Scribd, Nextory, and Storytel. They will also be available on all major library distribution platforms including Overdrive, Bibliotheca, and Baker & Taylor.”

This is good news for those of us who rely on audiobooks. It means there are likely to be more selections available in the future.

I haven’t the faintest idea how these companies produce the AI audiobooks, but whatever they are doing, they seem to be on the right path.

I can also see how this technology could be used in education and in business.

Many of us have likely had the experience of calling a customer service number, only to reach a human being who behaves like a robot, and whose range of ability seems to be working off of a script. A customer service representative created by AI could accomplish at least that much, and it could do so while maintaining a pleasant “attitude,” and speaking in a clear voice that customers can actually understand. In that scenario, AI would be a significant improvement.

Change can be difficult, but I’m cautiously optimistic about where this could lead.


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