Double take: Chinese news anchor’s AI alter ego makes his TV debut
China’s state news agency, Xinhua, has introduced AI news anchors who will report “tirelessly” all day every day, from anywhere in the country.
Chinese viewers were greeted this week with a digital version of a conventional Xinhua news anchor named Qiu Hao, in a tie and pin-striped suit. “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,” he said. An English-speaking AI anchor, based on another presenter, added: “The development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies … I look forward to bringing you brand new news experiences.”
The anchors were developed by Xinhua and the Chinese search engine Sogou to present a “lifelike image instead of a cold robot”, according to Xinhua. The broadcasters made their debut during China’s annual World Internet Conference, China’s Davos for the tech sector as well as a platform for the country’s vision of the internet and potential for new technologies.
While China is home to some of the world’s largest tech companies and some 800 million internet users, its internet is one of the most controlled in the world.
Observers fear China is turning into a digital police state, with iris and gait recognition technology being deployed to monitor activists, ethnic minorities and ordinary citizens.
“We are an important advocate for peace in cyberspace and a guardian of order,” Huang Kunming, head of Communist party’s propaganda department, said at the conference. “China stands ready to safeguard the sound order of cyberspace.”
According to Xinhua, the AI technology is not limited to news presenting. Wang Xiaochuan, the head of Sogou, cited a popular book reading app, Uncle Kai. “In the future, it could be your parents telling the story.”
For Xinhua’s already tightly scripted and controlled state news presenters, the AI anchors take things a step further. Video of the Chinese anchor quickly spread on social media in China, with as many impressed as alarmed, describing it as “a little bit horrible,” and “really scary.”
‘Not only can I accompany you 24 hours a day, I can be present at different scenes to bring you the news’ Qiu Hao Spoken by his AI double
The news anchor Qiu Hao and his digital double at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen