World of to­mor­row

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

WITH TECH­NO­LOG­I­CAL ad­vances mov­ing for­ward at break­neck speed, some peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly in the man­u­fac­tur­ing field, are find­ing them­selves re­placed by au­to­ma­tion. We sym­pa­thize with those souls and hope they can be re­trained to find a dif­fer­ent field. But jour­nal­ists have never truly been wor­ried about ro­bots do­ing our jobs … un­til now.

China has un­veiled the world’s first ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence news an­chor, and to be fair, it’s an im­pres­sive feat. China Xinhua News has mod­eled the AI “per­son” on one of its own jour­nal­ists. And to be sure, it looks like a real hu­man read­ing the news.

Of course Red China would in­tro­duce the first ro­bot jour­nal­ist. Its cur­rent, and cer­tainly hu­man, re­porters sim­ply re­peat the party line any­way. Whether the pro­pa­ganda comes from a real hu­man in front of the teleprompter or a ma­chine might not make much dif­fer­ence in the lives of the peo­ple of main­land China. But as al­ways, we di­gress.

“His move­ments, voice and over­all pre­sen­ta­tion mimic the style of real-life broad­cast­ers,” says The Sun­day Times. “And he is not the only AI news an­chor. Xinhua news agency also un­veiled an­other AI news an­chor, Qui Hao.”

Should we be wor­ried about real news an­chors be­ing re­placed world­wide? Prob­a­bly not just yet. If you watch the video of the, uh, fake news reader, you’ll no­tice the gen­er­ated image of a man sounds a lit­tle more hu­man than you’d ex­pect, but he’s still a far cry from hav­ing any soul or per­son­al­ity.

And it’s not likely he’ll be much good dur­ing an in­ter­view. Johnny Car­son, this thing ain’t. And if, one day, there’s a real jour­nal­ist send­ing him ques­tions to ask guests, then what’s the point? Our AI friend would be just an overly ex­pen­sive pup­pet.

All this stuff is im­pres­sive, but like self-driv­ing cars, the tech­nol­ogy isn’t quite there yet. Those ser­vice kiosks at McDon­ald’s are kind of neat, but you still see a face be­hind the cashier drawer. Things are chang­ing, but blink­ing eyes and nod­ding heads don’t a jour­nal­ist make.

And Arkansas’ news­pa­per will still be writ­ten by hu­mans, Gen­tle Reader. We’ve seen the cur­rent crop of ro­bot-gen­er­ated sto­ries—sports sto­ries, writ­ten through some sort of for­mula, on sev­eral fan­tasy foot­ball web­sites. Soul­less doesn’t de­scribe it.

For the time be­ing, and maybe only for the time be­ing, X and Y equals Z will have to stay in math class. As Tru­man Capote said about Beat Gen­er­a­tion writ­ers: That’s not writ­ing, that’s typ­ing.

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