By Amrita Khalid, one of the authors of audio industry newsletter Hot Pod. Khalid has covered tech, surveillance policy, consumer gadgets, and online communities for more than a decade.
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Image: Nick Barclay / The Verge
What if podcasters could flip a switch and instantly speak another language? That’s the premise behind Spotify’s new AI-powered voice translation feature, which reproduces podcasts in other languages using the podcaster’s own voice.
The company has partnered with a handful of podcasters to translate their English-language episodes into Spanish with its new tool, and it has plans to roll out French and German translations in the coming weeks. The initial batch of episodes will come from some big names, including Dax Shepard, Monica Padman, Lex Fridman, Bill Simmons, and Steven Bartlett. Spotify plans to expand the group to include The Rewatchables from The Ringer and its upcoming show from Trevor Noah.
Here’s one of Spotify’s translations on an episode of Fridman’s show:
The backbone of the translation feature is OpenAI’s voice transcription tool Whisper, which can both transcribe English speech and translate other languages into English. But Spotify’s tool goes beyond speech-to-text translation — the feature will translate a podcast into a different language and reproduce it in a synthesized version of the podcasters’ own voice.
“By matching the creator’s own voice, Voice Translation gives listeners around the world the power to discover and be inspired by new podcasters in a more authentic way than ever before,” Ziad Sultan, Spotify’s vice president of personalization, said in a statement.
OpenAI is likely behind the voice replication part of this new feature, too. The AI company is making a few announcements this morning, including the launch of a tool that can create “human-like audio from just text and a few seconds of sample speech.” OpenAI says it’s intentionally limiting how widely this tool will be available due to concerns around safety and privacy.
That’s probably part of the reason why Spotify says the translation tech is only being tested with a “select group” of podcasters for now. The company didn’t elaborate on how widely it planned to make the tool available or when to expect an expansion.
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Update September 25th, 8:55AM ET: Updated with the initial group of podcasters using the tool; Spotify also initially said French-language episodes would be available today, but they’re now coming later.