CHINA’S state-run broadcaster Xinhua has unveiled new “artificial intelligence” anchors, combining digitally manipulated faces of real TV newsreaders with synthesised voices.
Xinhua said the anchors use machine learning to synthesise realistic speech, lip movements and facial expressions to be able to deliver the news with the “the same effect” as real humans.
“AI anchors have officially become members of the Xinhua News Agency reporting team,” Xinhua said. “They will work with other anchors to bring you authoritative, timely and accurate news information in both Chinese and English.”
The AI anchors are now live across Xinhua’s internet and mobile platforms, apps, social media, and online TV streaming service.
In his first English broadcast the AI anchor, whose voice and appearance are modelled on real-life newsreader Zhang Zhao, introduced himself to viewers.
“The development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies,” he said.
“I’ll work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted. I look forward to bringing you the brand new news experiences.”
The South China Morning Post noted that although celebrity anchors in China working for state-run stations are generally paid less than US cable news hosts like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who earns a reported $US100 million a year, they are still a major cost.
Xinhua said the AI anchors “work 24 hours a day on its official website and various social media platforms, reducing news production costs and improving efficiency”. They simply require human editors to input text into the system.
The broadcaster said the technology was a “breakthrough in the field of global AI synthesis” and had “endless prospects”.
For nearly a decade, news organisations including the Associated Press, Washington Post and LA Times have been using artificial intelligence to generate news reports, but this appears to be the first time robot journalists have graced TV screens.
It’s conceivable that at some point in the future, viewers will be watching a news report delivered by an AI anchor, reading a script written by an AI producer.
Meanwhile, critics of the move have also noted the chilling prospect of the authoritarian Communist state using a CGI puppet to unquestioningly deliver its propaganda.
According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index, China ranks fifth last ahead of only Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea, with more than 50 journalists and bloggers currently imprisoned “in conditions that pose a threat to their lives”.
Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and dissident blogger Yang Tongyan both died last year from cancers that were left untreated while they were detained.
Controversial news is frequently censored and under tough new laws, members of the public can be jailed for online comments, posts on social media or even sharing content if it’s deemed to be “false information” that can lead to “social unrest”.
“By relying on the massive use of new technology, President Xi Jinping has succeeded in imposing a social model in China based on control of news and information and online surveillance of its citizens,” the group notes.
“At the same time, he has been trying to export this oppressive model by promoting a ‘new international media order’ under China’s influence. China’s state and privately-owned media are now under the Communist Party’s close control while foreign reporters trying to work in China are encountering more and more obstacles in the field.”