On the eve of China’s annual Journalists’ Day, Xinhua, a Chinese state-run media company, and Sogou, a Beijing-based search engine, introduced two AI news anchor at the World Internet Conference.
The first that is made to look like the real-life anchor, Zhang Zhao, is designed for English watchers. And the second AI which is based on another presenter, Qiu Hao, is meant for Mandarin-speaking watchers.
To create the suit-wearing life-like replica, the teams fed the AIs with hours and hours of video, and weeks to recreate the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of the two actual broadcast news anchors. That, and complete with realistic lip movements and facial expressions.
This is to present a "a lifelike image instead of a cold robot," according to Xinhua.
"AI anchors have officially become members of Xinhua‘s reporting team," the report said. "Together with other anchors, they will bring you authoritative, timely and accurate news information in Chinese and English."
In its report, Xinhua said that:
The AI can read next naturally, just like a professional news anchor. As it's machine-based, the AI can read the news uninterrupted for 24 hours, 7 days a week. The AI confirms this by saying "Not only can I accompany you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I can be endlessly copied and present at different scenes to bring you the news."
Both AI anchors have been put to work on some distribution channels, including its public WeChat account, the TV's webpage, two Weibo accounts, and the network’s English and Chinese apps.
According to Xinhua, the AI technology can be implemented to things beyond news presenting. The company said that the systems can be customized to different clients in different industries.
In an example, Chen Wei who is the voice technology development manager at Sogou, said that: "The tech can be used for various situations, such as for news broadcasters, virtual teachers, virtual doctors, and virtual customer service."
Wang Xiaochuan, the head of Sogou, also gave the example of a popular book reading app, Uncle Kai. "In the future, it could be your parents telling the story," he said.
But still. the AIs have limits, like initially having a voice that is too stiff, and having trouble in making some right pauses during speech. "I, who was wholly cloned from a real-life host, have mastered broadcasting as well as the real host," said one of the AI anchor. "As long as I am provided with text, I can speak as a news host."
While China is a country that homes many of the world's largest technology companies as well as innovations, its 800 million internet users are somehow restricted, as the internet in the country is one of the most controlled.
"We are an important advocate for peace in cyberspace and a guardian of order," said Huang Kunming, head of Communist Party’s propaganda department, speaking at the event. "China stands ready to safeguard the sound order of cyberspace."