Xinhua news anchor Qiu Hao stands next to an AI virtual news anchor based on him, at a Sogou booth during an expo at the fifth World Internet Conference (WIC) in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China November 7, 2018. The digital anchors themselves were developed through machine learning and taught to simulate the vocalizations, facial movements, and gestures of real-life broadcasters, so as to present a "a lifelike image instead of a cold robot", according to Xinhua. While the move could be seen as a threat to human journalists' jobs, some appear to welcome the innovation.
The agency points out that they may be particularly useful for disseminating breaking news reports in a timely manner.
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Xinhua's first English AI anchor introduces himself as what he is and what his capabilities are. By 2030, China's government has stated it wants to have established China as the world's dominant force in artificial intelligence.
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In a separate video, the AI news reader pledged to "work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted".
Calling it a "world first", Xinhua news agency this week debuted a pair of virtual news anchors amid a state-directed embrace of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence. This is my very first day in Xinhua News Agency, ' says the presenter in an introductory video. That's because you're not looking at a real person. The anchor will work as a part of the reporting team.
Oxford computer science professor Michael Wooldridge told the BBC that the anchor fell into the "uncanny valley", a term which refers to when avatars or objects look like humans but feel subtly unnatural, and are therefore uncomfortable to watch. 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.