Published: Fri, November 09, 2018

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

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

THE RISE OF THE MACHINES will be televised if China's artificial intelligence (AI) news presenter is anything to go by.

A Chinese company has worked with the state news agency, Xinhua, to develop the world's first virtual news anchor, which can read scripts like a human, with appropriate facial expressions and lip movements. While identical in appearance, the two versions are created to appease both English and Mandarin-speaking watchers. The AI will have "endless outputs", Xinhua says, given that they can "work 24 hours a day on its official website and various social media platforms" - provided that a human editor can supply them with the copy, that is.

The AI confirms as much, saying "I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted".

"I'm an English artificial news anchor, this is my very first day in Xinhua News Agency, my voice and appearance are modeled on Zhang Zhao a real anchor with Xinhua", he said. Since it's an AI anchor, news is read out in a very monotonous manner with no expressions in between.

"It's quite hard to watch for more than a few minutes", University of Oxford Professor Michael Wooldridge told the BBC. The virtual newsreader donning a sharp suit is basically a collection of digital composites created from videos of real human hosts. "It's very flat, very single-paced, it's not got rhythm, pace or emphasis", Prof Wooldridge told the BBC. Xinhua started using the AI anchor in its broadcast Thursday as well as in a separate Chinese-language version modeled on another presenter.

"If you're just looking at animation you've completely lost that connection to an anchor".

But Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, called it a "good first effort".

"We will see it improve over time".

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