Brandon Doerrer
Jan 10, 2024

Duolingo offboards translation contractors; Workers allege AI replacement

The language learning app offboarded 10% of contractors, including some who worked on translations, but denied it was to let AI take over.

Duolingo offboards translation contractors; Workers allege AI replacement
Duolingo has offboarded contractors who worked on translation for the language learning app, and former workers are claiming it’s because they’re being replaced by AI.
 
First reported by Dexerto, a former contractor who had been with Duolingo for five years posted on Reddit that they had been offboarded in December because the company was shifting to let AI handle translations. In a follow-up comment, they shared that half of their four-person team had been let go while the other two were kept around to review the quality of AI translations.
 
Duolingo chief marketing officer Manu Orssaud confirmed with Campaign US that the company ended contracts with 10% of its contractors at the end of 2023, but said this was “not directly related to the use of AI.”
 
“With contractors, there’s always a very specific job that they have to do and then when the job is complete, it’s time to move on,” Orssaud said as part of a wide-ranging interview conducted at the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday. 
 
He added that displacing workers with AI software is “definitely not a trend that we’re seeing” and “definitely not how we want to operate as Duolingo.”
 
“We don’t see AI as a replacement for humans, we really see AI as a tool to help us accelerate the work that we do,” Orssaud said. “What AI helps us to do is to provide some baseline content that is very imperfect, but it saves us time, [then] the human interaction comes from refining and optimizing and enhancing that content.”
 
A company spokesperson told PRWeek via email that Duolingo indeed offboarded contractors at the end of 2023, but stated that this affected a “small minority” of workers, while the majority were kept on.
 
“These are not layoffs,” they said. “While we do use AI for many different purposes at Duolingo, including the generation of some course content...human experts are still very involved in the creation of Duolingo’s content.”
 
They added that there are many reasons why contractors are not re-signed, including that the company has “improved our content creation operations and no longer needs as many people to do this work.”
 
Duolingo did not respond to questions about how many contractors were offboarded in December due to AI taking over their position. However, Bloomberg reported that about 10% of contractors were offboarded.
 
“We just no longer need as many people to do the type of work some of these contractors were doing,” a company spokesperson told the publication. “Part of that could be attributed to AI.”
 
Duolingo also told Bloomberg that no full-time employees were affected by December cutbacks.
 
Social media users expressed disappointment in the idea that AI could be taking jobs from translators.
 
Duolingo openly used AI to generate voices in the app and has a premium tier called Duolingo Max that provides AI-generated feedback and conversations.
 
In June, it published a blog post outlining how it uses a Large Language Model to predict the most likely way to complete sentences.
 
Jessica Heygate contributed reporting for this story.
 
This story was updated to reflect comments from Duolingo CMO Manu Orssaud.
Source:
PRWeek

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