China's State-Owned Press Agency Xinhua Debuts World's First AI News Anchors

Rhodilee Jean Dolor

China's state-run press agency Xinhua has introduced a new anchor to deliver news, but unlike the typical newsreaders that people are used to seeing on TV or on the internet, this one is based on artificial intelligence technology.

The anchor is based on digital composites created from footage of human hosts and designed to read text fed into the artificial intelligence using a synthesized voice.

The South China Morning Post reported that Xinhua created two anchors, one to broadcast news in English and the other for Chinese. The news agency developed these in collaboration with the search engine company Sogou.

According to The Verge, old videos of human anchors were used as a base layer for the AI anchors. By animating parts of the face and mouth and combining this with a synthesized voice, Xinhua can program the digital anchors to read the news far quicker than if they use traditional CGI.

The AI-based news anchors reportedly learn from live broadcasting by themselves.

Xinhua did not provide further information about the technology used to create the anchors but the product is reminiscent of the so-called "deep fakes." These videos are created by AI that scans hundreds of still frames from a video and then uses these frames to produce a new video.

Xinhua said that there are endless prospects for these AI news anchors. The news agency said that the digital speakers can be used to generate news for the TV, web, and mobile at a cheap cost.

"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 said, according to SCMP.

It appears that the technology still has plenty of room for improvement. For one, the range of the anchors' facial expressions is limited and it is clear that the voice is artificial.

Still, these digital anchors hold potential in changing the field of news reporting. Because they can work round the clock on Xinhua's official website and various social media platforms, these AI-based newscasters can reduce the costs of production and improve efficiency.

News anchors, particularly those working at major news networks in the United States, are paid large sums of money. CNN's Anderson Cooper, for instance, who is the highest paid news anchor, reportedly receives $100 million per year.

Xinhua unveiled the world's first AI news anchor at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China.