China’s state-run press agency has welcomed two additions to its team of journalists – two news presenters powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
Dressed in suit and tie, the AI newsreaders can ‘learn from live broadcast videos and read texts as naturally as a professional news anchor’, according to Xinhua.
The digital doppelgangers were modelled after the agency’s journalists, English-language anchor Zhang Zhao and his Chinese-language counterpart Qiu Hao, and were jointly developed by Xinhua and search engine company Sogou.com.
Tell the difference: China’s state-run press agency Xinhua unveiled its first AI anchor (right) based on one of this human presenters Qiu Hao (left)
The AI anchors were jointly developed by Xinhua and search engine company Sogou.com
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The two AI anchors were first seen in action at the ongoing 2018 World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang.
‘Hello everyone, I am an English Artificial Intelligence Anchor. This is my very first day in Xinhua News Agency,’ says the presenter in an introductory video.
‘My voice and appearance are modelled on Zhang Zhao, a real anchor with Xinhua,’ he continued in a somewhat robotic voice.
An AI system has been used to synthesise the presenters’ voices, lip movements and expressions based on those of real presenters.
‘I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted,’ he added.
Uncanny: An AI system has been used to synthesise the presenters’ voices, lip movements and expressions based on those of real Xinhua presenters
The digital doppelganger was modelled after the agency’s journalist Zhang Zhao
Xinhua said the anchors are available to work 24 hours a day on its official website and various social media platforms. This can reduce news production costs and improve efficiency during breaking news reports.
Net users on Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo questioned if these AI anchors would replace human reporters.
‘The AI’s voice is too stiff, and it has trouble making the right pauses during speech,’ one highly-rated comment read.
‘Seems like some normal presenters are getting fired,’ another user said.
‘What’s the point of this? I prefer real human presenters,’ another said.
China has become one of the leading global hubs for AI development in recent years. Several fields such as finance, healthcare, and manufacturing have adopted machine learning systems for commercial uses.
Automating workplaces in China with AI could add 0.8 to 1.4 per cent to gross domestic product (GDP) growth annually, depending on the speed of adoption, according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute.
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