Dubbing professionals on strike in Italy

Translators have long debated over what advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) could mean for their jobs. Interpreters too.

It’s no surprise, then, that improvements in AI-powered dubbing tools have been causing a stir among those who work in audiovisual localization. In Italy, 2,500 workers in the dubbing industry went on a strike, demanding protection from AI dubbing tools, among a handful of other requests, according to Variety. On Wednesday, it was announced that the strike would continue until March 14 (link is in Italian).

With the rise of technology that can emulate the tone and quality of any given speaker’s voice in multiple languages, the idea that studios could produce dubs using a given actor’s voice without ever having to actually work with that voice actor is a pretty fair concern.

As MultiLingual reported in 2020, synthetic voice technology has seen strong advancements in the last few years — tools like Resemble.ai’s Localize can automatically translate speech from one language into another all while mimicking the vocal quality of the original speaker. Increasingly, some outlets are now presenting such technology as the future of dubbing and video translation. 

“Taking into account the tremendous development of AI technologies, … I can confidently say that automated programs for video translation and dubbing will improve day by day and astonish us in 2023,” Alexander Konovalov, CEO of vidby, wrote in a piece for Forbes last month.

The recent strike in Italy suggests that workers in the dubbing industry are fighting back against this idea, though it remains to be seen what the future has in store for dubbing professionals.

“We are forced to sign contracts in which we give away the rights to the use of our voice,” Rodolfo Bianchi, a voice actor who leads ADID, an Italian organization for dubbing directors, told Variety in the midst of the strike. “This also involves the use of our voice for artificial intelligence purposes.”

The strike began Feb. 21 and was set to end a week later, but was extended to March 14 earlier this week. Although media coverage in the English-speaking press gave most weight to the aforementioned AI-related concerns, the workers on strike also noted that dubbing professionals were being given increasingly short turnaround times on projects and had not seen wages improve in 15 years.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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