Duolingo reportedly shifting to AI use after laying off translators

Christopher Baggett
The Duolingo owl in front of code

Language translation app Duolingo is under fire on social media as a former employee reports the company has laid off workers to pivot to AI translation.

The use of AI in fields has been a hot-button topic for the past year and will likely be hot-button for some time. Workers, especially those in creative fields, are feeling the pressure as corporations attempt to replace them with cheaper AI alternatives.

It’s primarily affected art-focused industries, as companies like Wizards of the Coast and Riot Games face accusations that they’ve used AI in their works, effectively circumventing or plagiarizing from artists.

However, the AI trend is affecting something that many users may be taking for granted, as popular translation app Duolingo has reportedly laid off a large number of contract employees in favor of an AI model.

Duolingo has reportedly laid off translators in a pivot to AI translation

The news broke originally on a Reddit post by user No_Comb_4582, who revealed Duolingo had “off boarded” their contractors. The layoff was reportedly part of a pivot to focus on using AI instead of human translators.

In a reply to his own post, No_Comb_4582 shared a screenshot of his final e-mail from Duolingo. He revealed he had been part of a team of four, only two of whom were kept on to review AI content.

While the firings may be surprising, it’s no secret that Duolingo uses AI as part of its service. In March 2023, the company announced Duolingo Max, a premium subscription tier that uses GPT-4 to create customized language learning exercises for users. Later that year, Duolingo cited its usage of AI to make language learning more accessible as a pillar of the company.

“This is not about replacing teachers, or ripping things up and starting again.” a September 2023 blog post states. “It’s about using technology to its fullest to improve outcomes. Using AI, Duolingo is able to provide access to quality education in places where students don’t have access to good schools and teachers, and enables students to certify their English proficiency in places where accessing test centers is either challenging, or impossible.”

Duolingo users are mixed on whether the pivot to AI translation is good

Not every Duolingo user is on board with the pivot to AI translation. Many have taken to social media to express their frustration over the prospect of replacing expert human translation with AI.

“This is the world we’re creating,” artist Reid Southen said on Twitter. “Removing the humanity from how we learn to connect with humanity.”

Others have shared their frustrations with the updated model, pointing out that it can easily sow distrust for users.

There are, of course, just as many who seem okay with it. A handful of Twitter users seem convinced that the AI pivot won’t be awful, with many citing human translation as inefficient work.

Others have dismissed this as another casualty in the ongoing march of progress and that the removal of translators is on par with other jobs that have been rendered obsolete throughout history.

Originally launched in 2011, Duolingo has become the most popular language-learning app in the world. It uses a gamified approach to teach a variety of languages, ranging from well-known languages like Spanish and Italian to endangered languages like Navajo and Hawaiian.

Since publication, Duolingo has responded and disputes the reports that layoffs took place. According to Duolingo, contractors were offboarded at the end of 2023 as their projects had wrapped up. This reportedly affected a small minority of Duolingo contractors; the company states the majority of contractors have been retained.

Duolingo has also stressed that while AI is used for many purposes, it still utilizes human experts for the creation of content.

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About The Author

Christopher Baggett started writing about comics on the Internet when he was 14 years old. Since then, he's written professionally for a host of sites, including ComicsBeat, Comic Book Resources, and The HomeWorld. He's most knowledgable about the legacy heroes of the '80s and '90s that he grew up with and believes Wally West is the best Flash - and he'll fight anyone over it. For tips, news, press and more, contact Christopher at christopher.baggett@dexerto.com