Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no WiFi for the past few years, you’ll be well aware that the world has recently seen a number of reality-skewing technological breakthroughs. China, as ever, is taking this to a whole new level.
Xinhua, China’s state news agency, has just revealed new additions to its team: digitally reconstructed television news anchors powered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
Dressed in crisp suits with distinctly sleek news anchor haircuts, the two new hosts were unveiled this week at the World Internet Conference in east China's Zhejiang Province, one for a Mandarin-speaking audience and one for an English-speaking audience. The voice and appearance of the English-speaking anchor, Qiu Hao, is actually based on a real anchor for Xinhua, Zhang Zhao. Journalists simply have to type the script into a computer and the AI anchor will read out the text in a synthesized voice, complete with all the subtle gestures and expressions you’d expect to see with a real human.
Over to you, Qiu.
“Hello everyone. I’m an English artificial intelligence anchor,” Qiu said in his first broadcast. “This is my very first day in Xinhua News Agency.
“I'll work tirelessly to keep you informed, as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted.”
"The development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies… I look forward to bringing you brand-new news experiences."
The virtual puppets, which appear to be very similar to the technology used to make “DeepFake” videos, was developed by Xinhua and the Chinese search engine, Sogou.com. Xinhua says that the anchors "can work 24 hours a day on its official website and various social media platforms, reducing news production costs and improving efficiency."
As you can see in the video broadcast, the technology is by no means flawless. The anchors can appear to be a bit wooden and some of the facial expressions are not quite right, but hey, nobody is perfect on their first day.
“As an AI news anchor under development, I know there is a lot for me to improve. Thank you,” it said in another video.
China is pumping huge amounts of money and talent into science and emerging technologies, such as AI. By 2030, China's government has stated it wants to have established China as the world’s dominant force in artificial intelligence. By all accounts, they are well on track.
As China Daily, another arm of China's state media, reported on the new "AI anchor": "The push comes as part of Chinese efforts to develop the AI sector. Policymakers have said that accelerating AI's development is key if China is to seize the opportunities presented by the next round of technological revolution and industrial transformation."