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Amazon Introduces Virtual Voice Narration: Self-Publishing News Podcast With Dan Holloway

Amazon Introduces Virtual Voice Narration: Self-Publishing News Podcast with Dan Holloway

Amazon introduces beta of virtual voice narration through KDP as an AI Safety Summit fails to achieve much of substance. Welcome to Self-Publishing News with ALLi News editor Dan Holloway, bringing you the latest in indie publishing news and commentary.

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Listen to Self-Publishing News: Virtual Voice Narration

On the Self-Publishing News podcast with @agnieszkasshoes, Amazon introduces beta of virtual voice narration through KDP as an AI Safety Summit fails to achieve much of substance. Click To Tweet

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About the Host

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet, and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, He competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.

Read the Transcripts to Self-Publishing News: Virtual Voice Narration

Dan Holloway: Hello and welcome from Oxford to another week's Self-Publishing News.

AI Safety Summit

As I mentioned last week, we of course spent last week all wondering what was going to come out of the AI Safety Summit. For those of you who are sick of listening to things about AI, you will be pleased to know that little enough seems to have come out of it that I will spend considerably less time than I might have done talking about it. I will talk about it a little though.

One of the main things that we saw last week was two people who love publicity managing to try and get as much publicity as they could out of the event and then managing somehow not to get nearly as much as they would have liked.

So, Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, hosted the AI Safety Summit as a way of positioning the UK as a global leader in technology. He has made it clear since becoming prime minister, he wants the UK to be a tech leader. He wants some sort of island version of Silicon Valley in the North Atlantic, and this was his chance to do that, his chance to bring people together from all over the world, and who better to give him his imprimatur for that than tech billionaire and decimator of X.

Interesting that, I just noticed Decimator of X, both X and Decimator are words, based on the numeral 10. So, fascinating connection there; it's almost as though it was meant to be.

So, anyway, the person who has single-handedly done more than anyone else to destroy the future of one of the largest social media platforms out there, Elon Musk.

So, two huge egos sat down together to talk about the future of AI, and it was very clear that, well, two things.

First of all, the media didn't really care. So, certainly we saw a lot less attention given to this in the UK than we had expected, but also, they clearly don't agree on very much. So, the big quote, if there was something big that came out of the AI Safety Summit, it was Elon Musk's contention that jobs would be a thing of the past.

So, this is something he's said many times before. He is, of course, a prominent supporter of universal basic income as a way of ensuring that in an automated future, people nonetheless are able to live not by working, but by having their needs met through a universal basic income which then frees them up to do all sorts of fabulous creative stuff.

So, this is something he's been saying for a while. Rishi Sunak, not necessarily a big fan of this, though he does seem to be a big fan of automation. Obviously, definitely an AI supporter.

The big cause of disagreement between the two, though, was on what we should do about the immediate future of AI.

So, Elon Musk, of course, has been calling for some time for a pause, at least a six month moratorium, on future development of these large language learning models like ChatGPT, so that we can look more closely at the consequences of what it means to develop them, so we can look more closely at the threats they pose and how to mitigate those threats before we find ourselves having come too far and finding out that it was too late.

Rishi Sunak has spent the whole of last week explaining, yes, he takes these threats seriously. Yes, he understands what the worry is about, but setting up some committees is probably all it takes, or all that is necessary for now, to make sure that we find out what these problems are and mitigate against them, and certainly, Elon, please don't take away my opportunity to become the Silicon Valley of Europe, especially not when I've got a general election coming up that I figure I'm going to lose unless I do something radical, something to do with AI.

That was pretty much all that happened at the AI Safety Summit. There was an agreement signed, really interestingly, both the US and China signed it. That's, I guess, an achievement, but it really was very little more than high level discussion of, yes, there are lots of threats of AI. Yes, we will take them very seriously. Yes, we will think of things to do about it, but very little in terms of actual steps.

So, for us as authors looking on, all other creatives out there, artists, voice artists, narrators, people looking in wondering what's going to happen to protect your work, your jobs, your creative lives the answer is, as a result of this much heralded conference, nothing concrete is going to be done to either acknowledge what the threats might be or to try and protect you from them.

Amazon Launched AI Audiobooks

So, I could go in one of two directions now. Let me see, where will I go? Let's take up that thread of voice narrators.

Voice narrators were in many ways the first creative community to be impacted by AI. When tools like SpeechKey started developing these really sophisticated artificial voice narrators which basically cut a zero off the cost of producing audiobooks. The idea behind them was, don't worry, we're not out to steal people's jobs, we just realized that most eBooks do not have an audio equivalent, and wouldn't it be fabulous if they did? Here is a tool that we can give you as authors, as publishers, to exploit your rights.

So, in that way, it seemed like something eminently reasonable. It's no different from helping you to sell your work in a different territory. It's simply that you've got this great creative work, now make sure you can sell it in as many ways as you can, and with audio being the up and coming medium in which people like to consume their content and read their books.

Even this week we had a great article from Jane Friedman on how she has learnt how to learn more through reading audiobooks at two and a half speed. So, it's the way, it's the future, especially for non-fiction.

These seem like great tools, but of course, they come at a cost, and that cost is that voice narrators won't get that work.

That's a little bit of background on AI and voice narration and sort of the fragility of voice narration in the audiobook ecosphere, and that's relevant because last week Amazon did what we, I think, all knew it was going to do and announced that it now has a tool to help you turn eBooks, or to help authors turn eBooks into audiobooks.

So, it's using a virtual voice to turn any eBook into an audiobook. Those audiobooks will then be available through Audible priced, I think, between $3.99 and $14.99, and the cost, like with Google Play Books, is going to be nothing.

At the moment, this is an invitation only beta. It's clearly something that they are looking to roll out very quickly.

The figure they give is that at the moment only 4 percent of eBooks have an audiobook equivalent.

So, there is clearly a massive market out there for writers and publishers of eBooks to turn those eBooks into audiobooks for free, and then cash in on this growing popularity of audio.

So, if you've got your beta invitation, it'd be really interesting to see how you go. Do tell us on this column, drop us a comment to tell us how it's going, to tell us how easy you find the process.

It seems to be fully integrated with KDP. So, the announcement appeared on the KDP community. Interestingly, it's hard to know how much of it is performative, how much of it is really meant, but they do make a point of saying this is complementary to ACX. So, you can still get a human voice narrator but we're also offering you this tool if that's not something that is going to work for you.

So, it will be really interesting to see what happens with that as it is rolled out more widely and as the figures come in. Also, interesting to see how much this does mean that an already growing audio market is then sent into the stratosphere to grow even further or is it that audio is reaching a saturation point and so what we're going to see is more authors fighting for cuts of a pie that stays the same.

If that's the case, then it really is going to be hard for human voice narrators to find a way to carry on making a living because human voice narration isn't cheap, and if there is a smaller amount of money available to anyone for selling audiobooks because there are more audiobooks out there, then it is going to be harder to produce books with human narrators.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens to the ecosystem as more and more virtually voiced audiobooks come out.

So, that's going in the direction of looking at what's happening in the world of audiobooks.

Writers’ and Publishers’ Organizations Voice Concerns

Going back to AI on the eve of the conference, it was really interesting that lots of writers and publishers’ organizations have been taking this as an opportunity to voice their concerns.

So, we saw that European writers and the European Writers Council, for example, previously had called on the EU with its new AI Act to protect the interests of authors. Then more recently, it was the turn of the Society of Authors, the Publishers Association, the Authors Licensing and Collecting Agency, to do similar and to call for the UK government to provide greater protection for creative incomes. In particular, looking at the issues that concern many people around copyright and on protecting the rights of copyright holders.

Another interesting thing that's coincided with this conference has been the issuing of a piece of software called Nightshade, which is developed by a team at MIT.

What this does is to basically try and make it hard for AI to use your, in this case, images. It'll be interesting to see if something is also done with words, to make it hard for AI to train itself on your work.

Basically, what it does is, say you've got a digital picture that looks to all human viewers like the work of art you intended it to be, but when an AI tries to scan the picture in order to ingest it and then train itself to produce something similar, it basically turns it into gobbledegook, or it turns it into something it's not. So, you might have a painting of a bunch of flowers and what it sees is a hundred frogs dancing around a rabbit, or something completely different. So, it's an obfuscation tool.

This is the most sophisticated method of obfuscation we've seen so far. We've seen some authors groups banding together to put junk words in their text to try and figure out if AI is using it. Sorts of amateur attempts and collective attempts to try and confuse or outwit artificial intelligence or just to catch it out, but this is a full-on obfuscation attempt by professional tech teams at MIT.

It's clear that this is going to become a tech arms race as AI on the one hand and the people who want to try and maintain privacy rights and so on, on the other, battle to get the tech upper hand.

What's going to happen in the meanwhile? Who knows? It's certainly not going to do great things for making content generated by AI more free from misinformation, that's for sure. But it could produce some very interesting results, and I'm sure it won't be long before we're seeing the equivalent of bad cover design, all those great Tumblr sites that show bad covers drawn by authors who think they don't need cover artists. It's not going to be long before we see bad AI art that sort of thinks it's a bunch of flowers, but actually it is clearly a magpie doing a salsa, that kind of thing.

So, lots of ways in which different creatives are trying to fight back against what they see as the threat from AI. The people who don't seem to be doing much fighting back at the moment are the tech companies and the government who got together to talk about what they should be doing and ended up deciding to do nothing.

Amazon, nonetheless, doing something, what that something is, is enabling authors through KDP to turn their eBooks into audiobooks.

So, that's a survey of self-publishing news this week. I will be back, as always, next week, and look forward to speaking to you again then.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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