China's State Media Is Training 'AI Anchors' to Read Its News


The English-speaking "artificial intelligence" anchor for China's Xinhua News Agency made its debut at the fifth World Internet Conference in east China's Zhejiang Province - which began Wednesday and runs until Friday.

The AI's looks are closely modelled on a real news anchor, and its lips are matched to frame each word that is programmed to come out of its mouth. News reports are fed into the system uninterrupted, meaning these newsreaders could theoretically operate 24-7.

"He" has the voice and facial expressions of a man and can imitate a real person.

Xinhua developed two AI news anchors, one that speaks Chinese and the other is an English speaker, in collaboration with China's search engine company Sogou.

There are actually a couple of AI Synthetic Anchors: One is a clone of the Xinhua News Agency's Hao Qiu and delivers the news in Mandarin; the other is modeled on Xinhua newscaster Zhang Zhao and performs in English.

"I'll work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system", the AI presenter said.

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The anchors are now available through Xinhua's distribution platforms, including its official Chinese and English apps, WeChat public account, online TV webpage, and two Weibo accounts. The AI anchor is said to "reduce news production costs and improve news efficiency".

"Xinhua said the new digital presenters "[learn] from live broadcasting videos" by themselves.

"It's quite hard to watch for more than a few minutes", University of Oxford Professor Michael Wooldridge told the BBC.

Newsrooms have increasingly implemented AI technology in recent years, with outlets including The Washington Post using AI to write short reports on such topics as the outcome of sporting events or to send news alerts.

China's news outlets are already subject to a lot of state control and censorship, so the ability to have virtual news readers to effectively do exactly what it's told is certainly an eyebrow-raising concept.