China created what it claims is the first AI news anchor — watch it in action here

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China’s state-run press agency, Xinhua, has unveiled what it claims are the world’s first news anchors generated by artificial intelligence.

Xinhua revealed two virtual anchors at the World Internet Conference on Thursday. Both were modeled on real presenters, with one who speaks Chinese and another who speaks English.

“AI anchors have officially become members of the Xinhua News Agency reporting team,” Xinhua told the South China Morning Post. “They will work with other anchors to bring you authoritative, timely, and accurate news information in both Chinese and English.”

In a post, Xinhua said the generated anchors could work “24 hours a day” on its website and various social-media platforms, “reducing news production costs and improving efficiency.”

Xinhua developed the virtual anchors with Sogou, China’s second-biggest search engine. No details were given about how they were made.

Though Xinhua presents the avatars as independently learning from “live broadcasting videos,” the avatars do not appear to rely on true artificial intelligence, as they simply read text written by humans.

“I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted,” the English-speaking anchor says in its first video, using a synthesized voice.

You can watch the first appearance of the English-language virtual anchor, which is modeled on the real presenter Zhang Zhao, here:

Convincing though it might seem at first glance, the movement of the mouth is clearly edited, the facial expression seems limited, and the voice is also highly robotic.

The Oxford computer-science professor Michael Wooldridge told the BBC that the anchor fell into the “uncanny valley,” in which avatars or objects that closely but do not fully resemble humans make observers more uncomfortable than ones that are more obviously artificial.

You can watch the virtual anchor’s report on China’s relationship with Panama here:

“As an AI news anchor under development, I know that there is a lot for me to improve,” the virtual anchor says as it signs off its report.

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