At an Internet conference, Chinese news agency Xinhua has unveiled a virtual program that could be used by moderators in the future.
The virtual presenter can mimic people's voices, facial expressions, and gestures, and allegedly learn from the behavior of other newscasters through artificial intelligence.
The development of the program is also an admission that in China, the journalists are no longer independent, but mouthpiece of the government.
Freezing speech, stiff movements, oddly raised eyebrows: At an Internet conference in Wuzhen, eastern China, the Chinese news agency Xinhua has unveiled a virtual program that could be used by moderators in the future. "Hello, I'm an AI news anchor in Beijing," the virtual speaker announced on his first appearance on the screens, neatly dressed in a dark suit with a blue tie.
The animated spokesman sent this explanation probably also because not every viewer should have been immediately clear that it is a virtual moderator – and not a man. Although the animation with its stiff expression and the jerky movements on prolonged viewing reminds of a newborn vampire from the book series Twilight, who must concentrate, not to eat up people smelling of fresh meat. At first glance, the animation looks deceptively real. Also because the virtual figure of a real person was modeled after the journalist Zhang Zhao, who otherwise reads the news on Chinese state television. "I was cloned by a real presenter, but I learned to moderate as well as he did," the virtual speaker explained with much programmed self – confidence in the transmission.
The program was developed by the state news agency Xinhua and the Chinese search engine operator Sogou. It can imitate voices, facial expressions and gestures of people and allegedly learn by artificial intelligence from the behavior of other newscasters, the makers in a statement. "The developments in the media industry require innovation," they explained the virtual Zhang at its introduction. To what extent the program is more than a human-like speaker, comparable to Amazon's echo or Google Home – just with a face – is difficult to judge from the first recordings. It is also impossible to predict how many TV stations will soon be using the new technology in the future.
If it goes to China's powerful, looks like the future. Artificial intelligence is one of the technologies in which Beijing wants to be ahead in the future. Artificial intelligence, software that is trained to mimic functions of the human brain without letting oneself be misled by emotions, is the next big thing in China. The boom is not only a goal in the current five-year plan, but also part of China's "Made in China 2025" development plan, the master plan to catch up with industrialized nations in the coming years. Beijing is providing billions of grants and supporting the establishment of AI research centers at universities. According to China's government under Xi Jinping, the industry is expected to generate $ 59 billion a year by 2025.
That the news agency Xinhua with their own development at the conference in Wuzhen advances, is therefore no coincidence. With the prominent appearance, she can prove that she follows the plans of President Xi Jinping deeds. The World Inter- net Conference in Wuzhen, which was held for the fifth time, would like to establish Beijing as Davos in the tech industry. With 800 million internet users, the country has the largest digital network community. At the same time, the Chinese Internet is considered one of the most controlled digital spaces in the world. Therefore, the conference is also a place where Beijing is trying to promote massive surveillance on the Internet to "defend order on the Internet," the government said recently.
For some aspects of this "order" animated speakers can certainly provide. In the future, the program will be used for posts on the website and on social media to "reduce production costs and increase efficiency," the news agency said. After all, the animated speakers would never tire and would need neither rest nor a preparation for an appearance. Above all, they are not rebellious. So their development is also a confession that the people in the editorial offices have long ceased to be independent journalists, but mouthpiece for the government. That too is Xi's will. Two years ago, during a visit to China's state broadcaster CCTV, he demanded that journalists say positively about the government, "Be loyal, Xi demanded, and for virtual Zhang Zhao, that will not be a problem.
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By Michael Moorstedt