The NAB Blog
AI – Are the Machines Taking Over?
By Anthony Anderson
2 June 2023
Scarcely a day goes by when there is not an AI news story in our national media. These range from the cataclysmic ‘Artificial intelligence could lead to extinction’ to the more optimistic ‘New superbug-killing antibiotic discovered using AI’. There is often a suggestion that AI will mean that many functions currently performed by humans will be redundant. In the U.K., British Telecom recently announced 55,000 job losses, with 20% of those attributed to AI. Many view the acceleration of AI with fear and suspicion, while legislators throughout the world are struggling to know exactly if and how it should be regulated. But what are the implications for the creative industries? And should writers, musicians and readers – and even audiobook publishers – fear for their future livelihoods?
While the technology has improved… it is still, to my ears at least, simply not the same as what comes from that most basic of propositions – one human being reading to another.
AI has been around for a long time. The term ‘artificial intelligence’ goes back as far as 1956 and simply refers to technology that can carry out functions that have previously been carried out by humans – this includes reasoning, learning and planning. In more recent years, AI has been part of our lives in the form of recommendations from Netflix, internet search engines or driverless cars. However, we are now seeing a proliferation of AI-generated content – written material generated by ChatGPT, as well as music, images and audiobooks. Parts of the creative industry have been quick to realise that this does have copyright implications – for example, where a music track based on recordings by a particular artist has been generated by AI, or in the case of an AI-created book cover. Much of the new content generated by AI is based on what has come before – some of which is inevitably still protected by copyright. Some companies, such as Getty Images have responded by issuing law suits, while others are investing in ‘ethical AI’ content.
In the world of audiobooks we are seeing an increase in the amount of AI-generated content appearing on certain platforms. While the technology has improved from the first example I heard almost 10 years ago it is still, to my ears at least, simply not the same as what comes from that most basic of propositions – one human being reading to another. This is more than just perception – in the AI examples I have heard there remain oddities in characterisation, phrasing, pacing and pronunciation of more unusual words. Having exercised great precision and care in our own productions over the past 30 years, we are sensitive to these issues, which we feel are of great importance in producing a recording of quality.
This is not to reject AI out of hand. In terms of recording, there may well be a place for it – for example, in generating audio versions of educational texts that would otherwise never see the light of day. There are several ‘back end’ functions where AI is already making us more efficient and productive as a company. Importantly, however, we will remain in control – using the technology where we find it advantageous, while retaining our core values, and particularly the quality of the audiobooks we are producing. In a fast-changing world there are some things that won’t change.
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