Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

And finally, a fake newsreader for China's real news

A screengrab from the video posted by Xinhua News Agency featuring an AI TV anchor A screengrab from the video posted by Xinhua News Agency featuring an AI TV anchor
Melinda Barton | 09 November, 2018, 12:41

China's state-run media Xinhua and Beijing-based search engine Sogou debuted two "AI composite anchors" - one each for English and Chinese viewers - at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen Wednesday.

According to the Chinese broadcaster, the presenters "can read texts as naturally as a professional news anchor". But as with most attempts at computer-generated humanity, the virtual anchor is both impressively realistic and yet unsettlingly soulless.

The agency points out that they may be particularly useful for disseminating breaking news reports in a timely manner. The AI anchor's voice is unmistakably robotic, too, mispronouncing words such as "Panama" and getting the space between words slightly off ― akin to hearing the news from an Alexa virtual assistant or a car's Global Positioning System.

China's state news agency this week unveiled the world's first virtual newsman.

"This is scary stuff, and arguably I am staring directly at my future replacement", veteran 10 News First newsreader Sandra Sully said of the technology. "Thank you", it said.

"Hello, you are watching English news programme", says the English-speaking presenter at the start of his first report.

There's a reason this news anchor seemed a bit robotic.

The results looks to be a tad mixed, with AI news presenters looking a little stilted and unnatural, though if we were to stumble in late at night after a skinful and turn on Chinese news, we'd probably be duped by the presenter, at least until we sobered up with some fried chicken and a can of coke.

The digital anchors can be programmed to read news faster than the traditional CGI techniques that are used. In a country where the press is heavily censored, one wonders if China has more ambitious plans to roll out more virtual news anchors, replacing human ones who might not always toe the party line.