China's State Media Is Training 'AI Anchors' to Read Its News
The tech is developed by Chinese search engine Sogou and the Xinhua News Agency. The artificial newsreaders are based on real-life reporters, and could help with 24-hour news cycles.
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China's state-run Xinhua News Agency has announced that it will be using "composite anchors" to read the news, which combines artificial intelligence with synthesized voices to create puppet-like newsreaders.
The machine-learning program makes it possible for the artificial newsreader to copy lip movements and facial expressions in time with the story it's reading, according to the South China Morning Post. News reports are fed into the system uninterrupted, meaning these newsreaders could theoretically operate 24-7.
In a YouTube video, the artificial person explains that its voice and appearance is modeled on Zhang Zhao, a real news reporter with Xinhua. Chinese search engine Sogou provided the underlying technology, but it's unclear exactly how these newsreaders were developed.
At this stage, the newsreaders aren't particularly sophisticated. The range of facial expressions are similar to that of a hyper-realistic Animoji, while its voice currently lacks the same natural rhythm or timing as Google's Duplex, the phone call service built into Google Assistant. But this is sure to improve over time, especially with realistic photo capture being developed in other areas.
Currently, the artificial newsreaders are available on a variety of platforms, including Xinhua's official Chinese and English apps, WeChat public account, and online TV webpage.
The implications are broad: China has a long history of supressing free speech and internet access. As PCMag's Max Eddy explains, we don't even feel comfortable recommending a VPN for use there in case there are any unknown vulnerabilities in the available VPN services.