China’s Xinhua unveils the world’s first AI news anchor

"I'm an English artificial news anchor, this is my very first day in Xinhua News Agency, my voice and appearance are modeled on Zhang Zhao a real anchor with Xinhua", he said.

Although other countries have toyed with animated or even robot newscasters, Xinhua claims this is the world's first AI news anchor that has the capability to improve itself over time through machine learning.

The virtual presenters are created using 3D digital models of real humans an then apply AI tech to synthesise the voices of presenters and replicate their expressions and lip movements, without the need for more time-consuming traditional CGI processes.

China's state-run media Xinhua and Beijing-based search engine Sogou debuted two "AI composite anchors" - one each for English and Chinese viewers - at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen Wednesday.

"I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted", says the presenter in an introductory video. "They will work with other anchors to bring you authoritative, timely and accurate news information in both Chinese and English", Xinhua said.

A more immediately worrying aspect is that virtual news readers could be yet another step down the route of delivering fake news and propaganda.

A Chinese speaking "artificial intelligence" anchor has also been unveiled, with a different face.

"It's quite hard to watch for more than a few minutes", University of Oxford Professor Michael Wooldridge told the BBC. It's very flat, very single-paced, it's not got rhythm, pace or emphasis. One would imagine that TV news anchors, for example, wouldn't be threatened by advancing technology, but it seems that might not be the case.

"If you're just looking at animation you've completely lost that connection to an anchor", he said.

Vanessa Coleman

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