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China debuts creepy AI that reads the news like a real(ish) anchor

Dont adjust your TV set, thats just a new computer-generated news anchor working out the bugs. Not here exactly, but on our new hardware site Plugged. Xinhua, a Chinese state-run media company, and Sogou, a Beijing-based search engine debuted a pair of AI news anchors this week at the World Internet Conference. While identical in appearance, the two versions are designed to appease both English and Mandarin-speaking watchers. Both are carbon copies of a real-life anchor, Zhang Zhao. To create the life-like replica, the teams poured over hours of video and went to great lengths to recreate the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of actual broadcast news anchors — complete with realistic lip movements and facial expressions. AI anchors have officially become members of Xinhuas reporting team, the report said. Together with other anchors, they will bring you authoritative, timely and accurate news information in Chinese and English. The team says that its AI can read texts as naturally as a professional news anchor, a claim thats dubious, at best. It does, however, exceed humans in one key area: it never needs to eat or sleep. This version can read the news, uninterrupted, 24/7. The AI confirms as much, saying I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted. Xinhua said, in its report: AI anchors have officially become members of Xinhuas reporting team. Together with other anchors, they will bring you authoritative, timely and accurate news information in Chinese and English. Both anchors have already been put to work on a handful of distribution channels, like its public WeChat account, the TV webpage, two Weibo accounts, and the networks English and Chinese apps. via CNETThe world's first on Xinhua

China’s state-run press agency has created an ‘AI anchor’ to read the news

Xinhua , Chinas state-run press agency, has unveiled new AI anchors — digital composites created from footage of human hosts that read the news using synthesized voices. Its not clear exactly what technology has been used to create the anchors, but theyre in line with the most recent machine learning research. It seems that Xinhua has used footage of human anchors as a base layer, and then animated parts of the mouth and face to turn the speaker into a virtual puppet. By combining this with a synthesized voice, Xinhua can program the digital anchors to read the news, far quicker than using traditional CGI. (Weve reached out to AI experts in the field to see what their analysis is.) According to reports from Xinhua and the South China Morning Post, two anchors (one for English broadcasts and one for Chinese) were created in collaboration with local search engine company Sogou. Xinhua says the anchors have endless prospects and can be used to cheaply generate news reports for the agencys TV, web, and mobile output. Each anchor can work 24 hours a day on its official website and various social media platforms, reducing news production costs and improving efficiency, says Xinhua. The technology has its limitations. In the videos above and below of the English-speaking anchor, its obvious that the range of facial expressions are limited, and the voice is clearly artificial. But machine learning research in this area is making swift improvements, and its not hard to imagine a future where AI anchors are indistinguishable from the real thing. This will strike many as a disturbing prospect, especially as the technology is being deployed in China. There, the press is constantly censored, and it is nearly impossible to get clear reports of even widespread events like the countrys suppression of the Muslim Uighur community. Creating fake anchors to read propaganda sounds chilling. But what the actual effect on society may be if such anchors become widespread is hard to judge. If Xinhua wants someone to read the news without questioning it they dont need AI to make that happen. Meanwhile, synthetic characters are slowly finding their way into mainstream culture, with figures like virtual pop star Hatsune Miku and CGI Instagram models familiarizing the public with this sort of creation. But while these examples fall clearly into the world of entertainment, having AI anchors read the news suggests the technology could become more than a novelty.