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Xinhua Shows Off Computer-Created TV Hosts

Wuzhen, China —(Map)

A news company run by the government of China showed off a new tool earlier this month – a computer-created TV host to read the news on TV.

Xinhua News is a large news group run by the government of China. They worked with a big Chinese company called Sogou, which, like Google, allows users to search the Internet.

China's Xinhua News Agency showed off a new tool earlier this month - a computer-created "AI" news anchor to read the news on TV.
China’s Xinhua News Agency showed off a new tool earlier this month – a computer-created “AI” news anchor to read the news on TV.
(Source: Screenshot of Xinhua video YouTube.)

Together, the two have created what they are calling AI (Artificial Intelligence) news reporters or news anchors. The companies used computers to create two fake TV anchors based on two real Chinese news anchors. The companies can now create new videos in which the “AI” anchors read whatever news is given to them.

When people say “AI”, they can mean many things. Usually AI means a computer program is making a series of decisions by itself – something that would normally require a human. So far, the AIs that have been created are good in one special area, like playing a game or finding faces in pictures.

So calling the new TV hosts “AI” may give the wrong idea. The companies used AI to create the picture and the voice for the videos, but there is no new clever brain behind the news. The new anchors are really like fancy puppets.

Picture of real Zhang Zhao and computer created version of him.
Xinhua now has two fake TV anchors based on real Chinese TV anchors. Now they can easily create videos in which the anchors read whatever news is given to them.
(Source: Screenshot of Xinhua video YouTube.)

The companies have created two different anchors. One speaks Chinese; the other speaks English. Both are based on real Xinhua news anchors.

Xinhua says the new anchors will save it money. The news group doesn’t just put news on TV, there are also Internet websites where the group reports 24 hours a day. In a video introducing the new host, the AI anchor joked that it would “work tirelessly”. As long as the AI is being given something to read, it can deliver the news.

Qiu Hao and fake Qiu Hao.
The anchors look and sound more or less like the real TV hosts, but there’s not much chance that people will think that either one is a real person. The “AI” anchors do not show much feeling.
(Source: Screenshot of Xinhua video YouTube.)

The anchors look and sound more or less like the real news anchors. But there’s not much chance that people will think that either one is a real person. Even though the body and face do move, it is mainly the mouth of the anchor that changes.

The body and face move some, but it is mainly the mouth of the anchor that changes.
The body and face move some, but it is mainly the mouth of the anchor that changes.
(Source: Screenshot of Xinhua video YouTube.)

There are many other little things that don’t seem quite right about the anchors. For example, there is not much feeling behind the words that they say. The English anchor doesn’t know how to say all the words it is reading, so even some simple words sound wrong.

Screenshot with subtitle showing Jack Ma being called "Jack Massachusetts".
The new anchors make mistakes that a human would never make. In one report, which talked about the famous Chinese businessman Jack Ma, the English anchor called him “Jack Massachusetts”.
(Source: Screenshot of Xinhua video YouTube.)

The new anchors also make mistakes that a human would never make. In one report, which talked about the famous Chinese businessman Jack Ma, the English anchor called him “Jack Massachusetts”. (MA is short for the US state Massachusetts.) Later, instead of calling him “Ma”, it called him “mom”.

Some people think this will be a powerful tool for the Chinese government, which tightly controls the news for Chinese people. They worry that the government can make this AI say anything, even if a real person normally would not say it.

Real Xinhua anchor Qiu Hao in front of his digital copy, saying, "I'm ready for the challenge."
The real Xinhua anchor Qiu Hao is not worried that the new computer copy will take his job. “I’m ready for the challenge,” he said.
(Source: Screenshot of Xinhua video YouTube.)

For now, the real Xinhua anchor Qiu Hao is not worried that the new computer copy will take his job. “I’m ready for the challenge,” he said.

Wuzhen, China


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