The new anchors at the Chinese state agency have perfect hair and no wrist.
Xinhua News recently unveiled what it calls the world's first news-based artificial intelligence at the World Internet Conference on Wednesday in the Chinese province of Zhejiang. From the outside they are almost indistinguishable from their human counterparts, crunchy and even keel. Although Xinhua says that the anchors are the "voice, facial expressions and actions of a real person, "the robot anchors pass on every text that is fed to them in lofty speech that sounds less human than that of Siri or Alexa.
"I will continue to work tirelessly to keep you informed, because texts are continuously typed into my system", says the English-speaking version in her debut video.
Developed jointly by Xinhua News and the Chinese search engine company Sogou.com, the anchors of live broadcast video & # 39; s and social media learn and can work 24 hours a day. The robots should help save costs and improve efficiency, but their presence in the media landscape – characterized by limited press freedom and strictly controlled internet – raises many questions about the quality of information that Chinese citizens receive from their government.
The AI-anchors are both modeled on real journalists from the agency, Qiu Hao and Zhang Zhao, and they perform basic human expressions such as blinking and raising their eyebrows. They can be copied endlessly according to the debut video & # 39; & # 39; and are therefore able to handle stories at multiple locations simultaneously.
"The development of the media industry requires continuous innovation and deep integration with international advanced technologies," said the English-speaking anchor in the introduction video. "I am looking forward to offering you brand new news experiences."
The lack of human touch with Xinhua's AI anchors is unlikely to cause much commotion, said journalist and veteran China observer Isaac Stone Fish. Xinhua is an organization that distributes government news releases and gives the public the government and party opinion on certain issues, Fish said, so getting news from robots is "not so different".
"It's just another way for Beijing to suck the blood from journalism," Stone Fish said.
This is not the first time Chinese media have involved robots in its coverage. In 2016, new post Dragon TV started using an AI-powered chatbot for the weather report.
On the English Twitter of Xinhua News you can see all the English speaking AI-anchor in action, with stories about a museum exhibition at the World Internet Conference and the plans of China to launch a Mars exploration in 2020. Then, on Friday morning, "he" even appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box.
Although the AI anchors are inexhaustible, they are devoid of decision-making and processing skills and can not offer the emotional element that a real journalist offers. In an interview with jieman.com, Wang Xiaochuan, the head of Sogou, admitted that the anchors' ability to compete with human functions at a deeper level is minimal. But they learn quickly, Wang says. They only need 10 minutes of data to accurately mimic a person's voice. Yet the anchors themselves said that they still have a long way to go.
"As a news item from the AI in development I know that there is still much to improve", said the English speaking anchor during his first signing.