Dou­ble take: Chi­nese news an­chor’s AI al­ter ego makes his TV de­but

The Guardian - - WORLD - Lily Kuo

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

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