The news never sleeps, nor the two new anchors of the Chinese state press agency.
Xinhua News has just unveiled what it is calling the world's first news powered by 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, bright colors and neat hair. Although Xinhua claims that the anchors have "voice, facial expressions and actions of a real person", the robotic anchors transmit any text transmitted to them with a speech that seems less human than Siri or Alexa.
"I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as the texts are typed into my system without interruption," says the English version in his debut video.
Developed jointly by Xinhua News and the Chinese search engine company Sogou.com, anchors learn from video and social media live and can work "24 hours a day". Robots should help reduce costs and improve efficiency, but their presence in the media landscape, with limited press freedom and a controlled Internet connection, raises many questions about the quality of information provided by citizens from their governments.
The AI anchors are both modeled on real-estate journalists from the agency, Qiu Hao and Zhang Zhao, and perform some basic human expressions, such as blinking and raising their eyebrows. They can be "copied to infinity" based on the debut video, so it can cover stories in multiple positions at once.
"The development of the media industry requires continuous innovation and deep integration with international advanced technologies," said the anglophone in his introductory video. "I can not wait to bring you new news experiences."
This is not the first time that Chinese media have employed robots in its coverage. In 2016, the Dragon TV news station started using an AI technology chatbot for its weather forecast.
The English Twitter of Xinhua News already shows IA in English in action, which deals with stories about a museum exhibition at the World Internet Conference and China's plans to launch a Mars exploration in the 2020. Then, Friday morning, "he" even made his appearance on Box Squawk of CNBC.
Although AI anchors are inexhaustible, they lack decision-making and processing capabilities and can not offer the emotional element given by a true journalist. In an interview with jieman.com, Wang Xiaochuan, the head of Sogou, admitted that the abilities of anchors to compete with human functions at a deeper level are minimal. But they learn quickly, Wang said, requiring only 10 minutes of data to effectively imitate a person's voice. Even so, the anchors themselves said they have a long way to go.
"As anchoring AI news in development, I know that for me there is much to be improved," said the Englishman again at his first access.