Saturday, 17 November, 2018

Newsroom of the future? Chinese TV unveils unnerving ‘AI anchors’

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media captionChina's'first AI news anchor Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionChina's'first AI news anchor
Lori Graves | 10 November, 2018, 03:29

Several months ago, Japanese news channel Kodormoroid debuted Erica, who is also powered by artificial intelligence.

China's state-controlled news broadcasters have always been considered somewhat robotic in their daily recitation of pro-government propaganda, and new AI presenters will do little to dispel that view. The anchor, dressed in a pin-striped suit with a red tie, nods his head in emphasis, blinking and raising his eyebrows slightly.

But AI anchors may one day challenge the human variety due to their ability to work 24 hours a day provided human editors keep inputting text into the system.

Xinhua's first English AI anchor introduces himself as what he is and what his capabilities are. "I look forward to bringing you the brand new news experiences".

It developed the anchors with Chinese search engine giant Sogou. Pay close attention to the AI Anchor, you'll notice that its face has a limited range for facial expressions.

Given that Xinhua is reputed to already be tightly controlled by the Chinese administration, with strictly followed scripts and closely monitored flow of information, one wonders what adding AI to the mix will do.

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Xinhua says the presenters can "work" 24 hours a day on its website and social media channels, "reducing news production costs".

News editors need to only input a text into the AI Synthetic Anchor system and the AI composite anchor will do the rest.

At first glance, the "anchor" appears to be an ordinary looking man, with the voice, facial expressions and movements of a real person.

According to the Chinese broadcaster, the presenters "can read texts as naturally as a professional news anchor".

"It's quite hard to watch for more than a few minutes", University of Oxford Professor Michael Wooldridge told the BBC.

"We'll probably keep that although you can see the financial advantages to replacing those very expensive newsreaders with AI robots that never sleep and never require wages".

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