China’s new AI news anchor is state of the art, and really...

China’s new AI news anchor is state of the art, and really boring

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Courtesy: Xinhua
Courtesy: Xinhua

"If you started using this technology in languages that are not spoken by most people in the world, it could be a big source of foreign influence."

UNITED NATIONS – Imagine flipping on cable news and hearing this:

“Hello you are watching English news program. I am AI news anchor in Beijing. Panama’s participation in the ongoing China International Import Expo is showing its potential as a port of entry for China into Latin America…”

Did you catch that? Chinese state media outlet Xinhua unveiled a computerized news anchor on Thursday. It’s modeled after a human and moves its lips as it speaks but, let’s be honest, doesn’t really sound like a human.

“So the AI news reader was really fun to watch for the first five seconds – and then I got bored.”

Meredith Broussard teaches journalism at NYU and is the author of “Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World.”

“This is absolutely state of the art in AI and in simulation, but the state of the art doesn’t even vaguely approach being human-like.”

That’s because human speech is inherently expressive, not just a sequence of words. Hence why humans appreciate the convenience of Alexa and Siri, not the timbre of their voices.

“I don’t think that Xinhua robot is going to put a lot of people out of business.”

That’s Matt Carlson, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism.

For now, Carlson thinks the AI news anchor is a novelty, and he’s more excited about how computers can help real-life reporters do their jobs better.

“I think the best uses we’re going to see are combinations between humans and this sort of data evaluation where people are able to really dig into these big data sets and do stories that are not possible with just human brains.”

But maybe that’s not what China’s propaganda departments want, especially as Chinese state media pushes its reach into the far corners of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“If you started using this technology in languages that are not spoken by most people in the world, I don’t think we’d even notice that this is happening and it could be a big source of foreign influence.”

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