China unveils AI news presenter

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

China's state-run Xinhua News Agency unveiled a deeply creepy artificial intelligence news anchor on Wednesday at the government's World Internet Conference tech expo.

The South China Morning Post reports that the two anchors-one for English broadcasts and one for Chinese-language announcements-combine the images and voices of human anchors with artificial intelligence (AI) technology, mixing their speech, lip movements, and facial expressions. The programme has been made in English and Chinese.

The team says that its AI can read texts as naturally as a professional news anchor, a claim that's dubious, at best.

Xinhua's AI anchors are doing their thing on selected distribution channels including the news agency's English and Chinese apps, WeChat public account, TV webpage, and two Weibo accounts.

But Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, called it a "good first effort". The AI anchor is said to "reduce news production costs and improve news efficiency".

The AI anchors are the latest in an ongoing trend towards global digitization across several industries, outside of news, given that we already have the holographic pop star Hatsune Miku, not to mention the equally weird CGI Instagram models Bermuda and Lil Miquela. 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. They are based on those of real Xinhua presenters.

In his latest book, Professor Walsh predicted the evening news would be produced without any human input, from the newsreader to the writing of reports.

Walsh said China is quickly starting to lead the way in AI development, with the nation investing in the field "in a big way" as they seek economic and military dominance.

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