If you’re a fan of audiobooks, Apple just released the first AI-narrated books to give you a taste of the future. But while the move is riveting and profound, the narrator’s mechanical tone suggests the beloved vocals are still around for a while.
You can find AI-voiced audiobooks that use text-to-speech translation by searching for “AI narration” in the Apple Books app. This will display a list of romance or fiction books (free and paid) with a “Told by Apple Books” description.
Apple Books offers two types of AI voices — a soprano called Madison and a baritone called Jackson — who both have American accents and currently only speak English. You can experience their sounds by clicking the “Preview” button under the title of one of the Apple Books narratives.
Now, there’s no question that both of Apple’s AI voices have a robotic, artificial quality. You won’t quickly mistake them for the warm, expressive tone of popular narrators like Stephen Fry or Julia Whelan. But while the uncanny valley remains a difficult hurdle for AI narrators to cross, they are certainly on the fast track to our ears.
nature, apple says (opens in a new tab) Its AI voice has been developed to make audiobooks “more accessible to all.” But they also make the multibillion-dollar audiobook industry more palatable to tech giants. And the new Apple Books feature is just the beginning of a fierce battle with the likes of Amazon and Spotify for our audiobook-loving ears.
For now, we’ll mostly see AI narrators limited to books from smaller independent publishers. This could trigger a surge in the number of audiobooks available to readers on all devices, as digital narratives open up a new market for publishers and authors who previously could not afford the leap from print to audio.
But resistance from big publishers and voice actors could also slow the rise of robot narrators. Amazon’s Kindle e-reader officially lost its text-to-speech functionality a few years ago, even though there was a workaround in the accessibility menu. The decision was due at least in part to copyright concerns and the fact that audiobooks are legally considered unique works of art.
Audible, owned by Amazon, also has written in great detail (opens in a new tab) About which narrators are suitable for different types of books and how publishers can choose the right ones. “The most important aspect of an audiobook is that the sound matches the tone and genre of the book,” says its blog. This is a little harder to do if you only have two voices like Apple Books.
Audible also says that “experienced voice actors can easily distinguish voice characteristics by adjusting pitch, intonation, volume, and accent,” which is of course where AI voice actors will need some intense vocal training, and perhaps Some evening school of emotional mirroring.
But the new Apple Books feature is clearly just the beginning of an inevitable boom in AI voice technology. The real big moment for audiobooks might come when AI can convincingly imitate famous voice actors, rather than mechanically read scripts — and based on recent demonstrations by companies like Amazon, that leap might not be too far away.
Virus web applications such as uber duck (opens in a new tab) Lets you generate speeches with the voices of past presidents or cartoon characters, and last year amazon showing off (opens in a new tab) A slightly scary new Alexa skill that reads The Wizard of Oz to a child in a grandmother’s voice.
with the like Google Wave (opens in a new tab) While pushing the technology forward, the voice of AI will only become more persuasive. Right now, the barriers to widespread adoption of audiobooks may be more legal and ethical than technological. But the human narrators of Apple Books are the voices of our synthetic future — and in the near future, well-known voice narrators may also copyright and license their own voices.
Currently, the evidence in Apple Books suggests that these AI voices are currently best suited for non-fiction and factual works, rather than emotional storytelling. With fiction, as with movies, we’re some distance away from artificial actors who can convincingly tug at our heartstrings without robotic changes or voice drops ruining the suspense. But regardless, the torrent of AI audiobooks is sure to come.