Newscasters, cable news show anchors and news readers are finding their jobs in precarious positions for a number of reasons, but those in Western countries have no threat to their employment quite s big as the one facing their counterparts in China, where media providers are testing virtual newsreaders created by combining images and voices of humans with artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Mr. President! Mr. President! Robbie Gort here from AI 2001 News. What’s your stance on robot rights?
“AI anchors have officially become members of the Xinhua News Agency reporting team. They will work with other anchors to bring you authoritative, timely and accurate news information in both Chinese and English.”
Xinhua News Agency is the official state-run news provider of the People's Republic of China. It’s the largest media organization in China and the largest news agency in the world in number of correspondents (10,000) worldwide. That last figure, according to South China Morning Post, is why the organization is turning to AI.
“Celebrity anchors are regarded as important assets at major news networks in the US. The highest paid news anchor, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, is reportedly paid US$100 million a year, while Diane Sawyer at ABC and Sean Hannity at Fox News earn US$80 million each. Celebrity anchors in China are generally paid a lot less because they work for state-run TV stations but they often earn extra money from product endorsements and book sales.”
Not only do Xinhua’s lifelike AI anchors work cheap, they never need bathroom breaks, lunch hours, sleep, vacations, huge paychecks or ego-stroking. As long as human editors keep feeding them news items (and those people could be eliminated soon as many news agencies are testing automated news aggregators and story writers), the AI anchors will keep staring into the camera and talking -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week … or at least until viewers get tired of staring at the same face, which may not be a problem (or at least one that anyone will feel safe complaining about) since Xinhua is the state news agency. (See a video of the first AI anchor here.)
The AI news anchors were announced at the recent World Internet Conference in Wuzhen and developed by Sogou, China’s second-largest search engine operator. It has proprietary technology in natural language processing – a branch of AI dealing with how computers understand and interpret human language – so it is undoubtedly working on improvements to give the AI newsreaders more realistic-looking speech, lip movements and facial expressions.
What about questioning authorities or telling the truth? There has been ongoing controversy in the U.S. over local TV news staffs being forced to read copy written by the station’s owners and management without question and without changing any words. Artificial intelligence hasn’t reached the point yet where an AI anchor can get disgusted and walk off the set while yelling, “I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!”
Can it? Should it? Will other media providers see this as something to fight or a means to greater profits?
What do you think … while you can still think for yourself? Anderson?