Duolingo Fires Translators in Favor of AI

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Duo… no…

Et Tu, Duo?

The popular language-learning app Duolingo cut 10 percent of its contracted translators last month amid a push to integrate generative AI into its services, multiple outlets have reported.

A Duolingo spokesperson confirmed the December 2023 workforce slash to Bloomberg on Monday, claiming that DuoLingo “just no longer [needs] as many people to do the type of work some of these contractors were doing.”

“Part of that,” the spokesperson added, “could be attributed to AI.”

Elsewhere, in a statement provided to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a Duolingo spokesperson said that the company uses “AI for a variety of different functions and tasks,” but conceded again that “there is some merit to the idea that AI is contributing to the reduction of our contract workforce.”

It’s another alarming turn in an increasingly AI-laden labor market in which company leaders continue to implement automated technology wherever they can — often, as in this case, at the cost of human jobs.

Estás Despedido!

According to Bloomberg, the firings were doled out just a few weeks after Duolingo bragged in a November letter to shareholders that the company was harnessing AI to produce “new content dramatically faster.” Duolingo also reportedly uses AI to generate some of the voices heard in various in-app language scripts and to prompt AI-generated feedback to users.

To make matters even more depressing: in a late December Reddit thread, a site user claiming to be one of the fired Duolingo translators alleged that their former team’s remaining contractors are now tasked with simply checking AI-generated text for errors.

“I worked there for five years,” the Redditor wrote in the post, adding that “those who remained will just review AI content to make sure it’s acceptable.”

In other words, if this claim is true, it would mean that translators are seeing their knowledge-based work reduced to what could effectively be considered AI quality assurance.

Translation is a complex task that requires an understanding of the contextual nuance of a given language. Trusting translation AI — meanwhile pushing remaining contractors to fact-check presumably high numbers of those “dramatically faster” content outputs — may well come at the cost of such nuance, potentially flattening the learning process and rendering language robotic.

“I like and value the human aspect of language exchange and learning, and I think that [there are] nuances in languages that AI can’t fully replicate (at least as of now),” a sympathetic netizen commented in the December Reddit thread. They added: “I can’t help but still feel a little sad.”

More on AI and translation: ICE Is Using Busted Translation AI That Can’t Understand Detainees

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