Apple’s AI audiobooks are a long way from killing off human narrators

If you’re an audiobooks fan, Apple has just given you a taste of the future by launching its first batch of AI-narrated books. But while the move is a fascinating one with big implications, the narrators’ robotic tones show that much-loved human voices will be around for some time yet.

You can find the AI-voiced audiobooks, which use text-to-speech translation, in the Apple Books app by searching for ‘AI narration’. This brings up a list of romance or fiction books (both free and paid for) that come with the description “narrated by Apple Books”. 

Apple Books offers two types of AI voice – a soprano called Madison and a baritone voice called Jackson – which both have an American accent and currently speak in English-only. You can get a taste of what they sound like by tapping the ‘preview’ button under one of the Apple Books-narrated titles.

A tablet screen showing Apple's AI audiobook narrators

(Image credit: Apple)

Right now, there’s undoubtedly a robotic, artificial quality to both of Apple’s AI voices. You won’t be mistaking them for warm, expressive tones of popular narrators like Stephen Fry or Julia Whelan anytime soon. But while the uncanny valley remains a tough obstacle for AI narrators to cross, they’re undoubtedly on a fast-track to our ears.