Duolingo lays off translators in favor of AI alternatives

January 8, 2024

Duolingo AI

Duolingo, the leading language translation app, has caught attention on social media following a former employee’s claims that the company has dismissed several translators in favor of AI.

It’s been a high-octane few days for AI-related job displacement, with a slew of companies releasing AI-generated promo imagery on social media and subsequently receiving massive criticism. 

Magic: The Gathering, for example, used AI to partially create images promoting new cards, and Xbox’s indie games division used AI to generate an image for an X post. 

Probably the biggest loser, though, is the art drawing tablet company Wacom, which remarkably used an AI-generated image to promote a discount. This is a company that makes products to help artists create digital art.

Now, posts are surfacing around Duolingo laying off human translators. According to a Reddit post, Duolingo has “offboarded” a significant number of its contract employees, quoted at 10% of its contractors.

One commenter shared an email from Duolingo, stating, “Here’s the final email I got two weeks ago. Just in case you wanted to see it. I worked there for five years. Our team had four core members and two of us got the boot. The two who remained will just review AI content to make sure it’s acceptable.”

Big layoff at Duolingo
byu/No_Comb_4582 induolingo

Real accounts of job losses at the hands of AI are one thing, but it’s the insensitivity of the email that many found jarring. 

Duolingo has been experimenting with AI for some time. A blog post from September 2023 stated, “At Duolingo, we’re well versed in the use of AI. It’s literally baked into everything we do – from personalizing your language lessons, to underpinning cutting edge security features on the DET, our high stakes English test, to helping you learn music with our brand new course.”

It continues, “This is not about replacing teachers, or ripping things up and starting again. It’s about using technology to its fullest to improve outcomes.” The partisan post goes on to say, “AI has the power to transform our world. We know how transformational AI is because we see it every day.”

Reactions to these Duolingo lay-offs are consistent with criticisms levied against companies in the last few days. For many, it’s signaled that companies are beginning to actively reduce human work opportunities. 

This has also revealed a new form of PR risk, and companies must be extremely careful about how they use AI in their processes. 

Artist Reid Southen, who worked with cognitive scientist Dr. Gary Marcus to expose Midjourney’s laissez-faire usage of copyright data, stated, “This is the world we’re creating. Removing the humanity from how we learn to connect with humanity.”

Duolingo contacted Softonic following their coverage of this story, stating, “We can confirm that some Duolingo workers have not been renewed upon the completion of their projects at the end of 2023. But these are not layoffs. This affected a small minority of Duolingo workers, as the majority have been retained.”

Despite that defense, for many onlookers, this is symbolic of AI job replacements, one of the technology’s most feared effects.

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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