China’s state news agency Xinhua this week introduced the newest members of its newsroom: AI anchors who will report “tirelessly” all day every day, from anywhere in the country.
Developed by Xinhua and the Chinese search engine, Sogou, the anchors were developed through machine learning to simulate the voice, facial movements, and gestures of real-life broadcasters, to present a “a lifelike image instead of a cold robot,” according to Xinhua.
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 worry China is turning into a digital police state, with technology from iris and gait recognition being deployed to monitor activists, ethnic minorities in places like Xinjiang, and regular citizens.
At the conference in Wuzhen in southern China, attendees saw their photos flash on a screen as soon as they passed through security checks using facial recognition. In a session on fintech, companies discussed cooperating with law enforcement, providing information for negligent citizens to be put on social credit blacklists.
“We are an important advocate for peace in cyberspace and a guardian of order,” said Huang Kunming, head of Communist Party’s propaganda department, speaking at the event. “China stands ready to safeguard the sound order of cyberspace.”
While praising the anchors, Xinhua and Sogou acknowledged their limits. “I, who was wholly cloned from a real-life host, have mastered broadcasting as well as the real host,” the Chinese-speaking AI anchor said. “As long as I am provided with text, I can speak as a news host.”