China's Xinhua agency unveils AI news presenter

Donna Miller
November 8, 2018

Xinhua is boasting that their new artificial intelligence news anchor is a world's first and that "he" is now considered a regular member of the reporting team and, even better, never needs a break.

Xinhua's AI anchors are doing their thing on selected distribution channels including the news agency's English and Chinese apps, WeChat public account, TV webpage, and two Weibo accounts.

In an introductory video, the software says: "I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted".

A Chinese speaking "artificial intelligence" anchor has also been unveiled, with a different face. Since the AI anchor can work 24 hours a day, Xinhua says that means production costs associated with human anchors can be reduced and efficiency improved. They are based on those of real Xinhua presenters.

These anchors look realistic, but are actually digital composites that are rendered using actual footage of human anchors reading the news.

At first glance, the "anchor" appears to be an ordinary looking man, with the voice, facial expressions and movements of a real person.

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Michael Wooldridge, a Professor at the University of Oxford, said the result is mixed.

It was stuck somewhat in the "uncanny valley" - a term used to describe human-like robots and avatars which seem subtly unrealistic.

He explained: "It's quite hard to watch for more than a few minutes. It's very flat, very single-paced, it's not got rhythm, pace or emphasis", Prof Wooldridge told the BBC.

Noel Sharkey, a robotics professor at the University of Sheffield, was slightly more impressed.

"The problem is that it could be very boring".

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