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Journalists beware: After Bloomberg bots, AI news presenter debuts in China

A digital persona, created entirely by computer programmes, will now present news on Chinese news agency Xinhua

Yuvraj Malik  |  Bengaluru 

Xinhua news anchor
China's state-run Xinhua News Agency debuts 'AI anchor' to read the news

The idea that media jobs will be taken over by computer programmes has acquired a whole new dimension -- a visual one.

The Chinese have created a virtual news-reader -- a digitally created persona with chilling similarity to a human -- that presents bulletins without breaks, stress or a salary.

Early Friday, videos started doing rounds of Qiu Hao, the artificial news anchor, who, dressed in a suit and tie, is seen reading a 30-second segment. At one part, it says, "Not only can I accompany you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I can be endlessly copied and present at different scenes to bring you the news."

The footage, a "debut" as some are calling it, was followed up by all major international news publications, albeit with a pinch of perturbation.

This new digital marvel was created by Chinese state news agency Xinhua and search engine firm Sogou. It will be deployed "to cheaply generate news reports for the agency's TV, web, and mobile output", Xinhua said in a statement to South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper.

Its creators are calling it an "anchor" because the whole digital act is created not by CGI -- traditional animation -- but by a computer programme that scraped through millions of news bulletin videos, learning on its own and creating a persona, as close as possible, to a real news anchor, according to news reports.

Its creators used sophisticated and to give it human-like attributes -- blinking of eyes, raising of eyebrows and lip synchronisation. All this with little or no intervention from a human programmer. Of course, the script is pre-fed. (It’s China!)

Xinhua, quoted in The Guardian, said the technology will not necessarily be limited to news presentation and may be customised for different clients in other industries.

While the Chinese state news agency sees it as a "breakthrough in the field of global synthesis", journalists, much like workers in other industries, are scared for their jobs amid AI's rise.

Bloomberg has also started using a bot to write standard corporate earning copies. This is likely to result in the retrenchment of staff, if it has not already.

What is more daunting than a Chinese news anchor is that there are two of them. The other one is English language "presenter" Zhang Zhao.

First Published: Fri, November 09 2018. 23:43 IST