Duolingo lays off many of its human translators and replaces them with AI

Duolingo green owl stood next to a white mechanical brain
Credit: Duolingo / Steve Johnson

Duolingo green owl stood next to a white mechanical brain
Credit: Duolingo / Steve Johnson

The language learning app Duolingo has laid off a portion of its translation contractors and effectively replaced them with AI. In light of the layoffs, Duolingo has come under heavy criticism across social media, with users concerned about the growing use of AI in aspects of their daily lives.

In a Reddit post to r/duolingo, one user told their story of how they had been affected by Duolingo's layoffs. stating that "Duolingo 'offboarded' a huge percentage of their contractors" who create translated content for the educational app. The user, named No_Comb_4582, believed that the decision was made by higher-ups as they believed that the speed of AI translations outweighs the accuracy of using human workers, "plus it save them money".

In a comment under the original post, No_Comb_4582 also highlighted the extent of Duolingo's layoffs. The user states that they worked for Duolingo as a contractor for five years and that out of a team of four, "two of us got the boot", whilst the remaining staff would be left to "review AI content to make sure it's acceptable".

With Bloomberg reporting that 10% of contractors lost their jobs in the layoffs, and given the proportion of staff laid off in user No_Comb_4582's former team, layoffs were likely targetted at a selection of translation teams, as Duolingo continues to expand its AI division.

Unfortunately, this is likely part of a wider trend that may be more common as more use cases are identified for AI, and as the technology continues to develop in accuracy and reliability.

Many Reddit members sympathised with user No_Comb_4582 in the comments, and plenty of users have expressed their anger and disappointment at Duolingo's decision to go down this root. Most felt as though the AI and human hybrid offering would not be able to compete with work done solely by native translators, with some users going so far as to cancel their subscriptions outright.

Ultimately, time will tell as to whether Duolingo is making the right choice with this move. If the accuracy of its translations and overall offering is poorer as a result, this move may open the door to competitors to provide a superior offering.

However, if profits rise, or even the overall quality improves (humans, like AI, do make mistakes), this may only be the first wave of many layoffs within Duolingo and the wider knowledge-based industry.

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