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China’s state news agency in Xinhua, has debuted two “AI anchors” virtual anchors designed to be able to deliver the news 24 hours a day with a synthesized voices.

This  anchor was unveiled on Wednesday at an internet conference in the eastern city of Wuzhen. This anchor look realistic that can be mistaken for human, but are actually digital composites that are rendered using actual footage of human anchors reading the news. The AI anchors are able to “read” any text fed into the artificial intelligence using synthetic voices that are created through the use of composite audio recorded from the real-life anchors.

According to the South China Morning Post, an English-language anchor and a Chinese-language anchor were created by Xinhua in partnership with China’s second-biggest search engine company Sogou. “AI anchors have officially become members of the Xinhua News Agency reporting team, Xinhua confirmed.  “They will work with other anchors to bring you authoritative, timely, and accurate news information.

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 didn’t divulge any additional information into the technology being used to create the AI anchors, but the final product feels very reminiscent of the “deep fakes” videos that emerged in the West.

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.

Users of China’s micro-blogging site Weibo were not completely convinced by the virtual presenter claiming:
“(His) voice is too stiff, and there are problems with the pauses,” said one user.
“Apparently, news anchors have to lose their jobs,” said another.
“As an AI news anchor under development, I know that there is a lot for me to improve,” the AI anchor says as it signs off its report.
The technology has its limitations. In the videos displaying the AI anchors, it’s obvious that the range of facial expressions are limited, and the voice is clearly artificial. But machine learning research in this area is making swift improvements, and it’s not hard to imagine a future where AI anchors are indistinguishable from the real thing.
Although this innovation could fall clearly into the world of entertainment, however, having AI anchors read the news suggests the technology could become more than a novelty.

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