China's Xinhua News unveils freaky monotonous English-speaking AI news anchor

It makes people feel uncomfortable.

Belmont Lay | November 10, 2018, 04:14 PM

Things are getting freaky in China.

AI news anchor unveiled

China's state-run Xinhua News Agency has launched an artificial intelligence (AI) news anchor.

The "English AI Anchor" debuted Thursday, Nov. 8, at the World Internet Conference in the country's eastern Zhejiang Province.

The news-reading avatar, which Xinhua claims is a world first, is modelled on the agency's Zhang Zhao presenter, a real television anchor.

"I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted," the AI news reader said in a monotonous voice.

Developed by search engine

Details about the AI technology and how it came about has been sparse, but Xinhua said it developed the robot anchor with Chinese search engine

It has posted an extra two reports from the AI avatar broadcaster on its Twitter feed.

One covers China's announcement that it will launch its first Mars probe in 2020 and ends with the AI anchor paying tribute to Chinese journalists, which is ironic.

Not that convincing though

Scepticism is rife about how much AI is actually utilised though.

Even though Xinhua presents the avatars as independently learning from "live broadcasting videos", the video appears to be more similar in technology to "deep fakes".

This is where the avatar can be manipulated to look like another living person and express itself more fully with a greater range of emotions, as they simply read text written by humans and do not appear to rely on true artificial intelligence.

Uncanny valley

Oxford computer-science professor Michael Wooldridge told the BBC that this AI anchor fell into the "uncanny valley".

This means that avatars or objects that closely, but do not fully resemble humans, make observers more uncomfortable than ones that are more obviously artificial.