NEW USES FOR AI
We have all been witnesses to the rise of artificial intelligence. These new AI programs perform all kinds of useful tasks such as recommending shows on platforms like Netflix or figuring out the best way to get to our destination using the GPS app on our phones. We have also seen the creation of the very first robot citizen Sophia who is little more than an advanced chat bot with a lifelike appearance but that doesn’t stop the hype surrounding the future uses of this technology.
China has been an industry leader in the field of AI for decades now. The latest practical use of this technology comes in the form of an AI news anchor. A robot news anchor would be able to quickly and efficiently deliver the latest headlines 24/7 without needing a break. Regardless about how you feel about using AI for this kind of application it is an interesting idea. An idea that unfortunately for China may prove to be too flawed to deliver what they intend to deliver. But we will get back to that after we describe how this AI works and what it looks like.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
As you can see in the video above the AI appears extremely lifelike in many aspects. It is sharply dressed and its appearance is modeled after a real news anchor named Qui Hao which helps it appear like it really belongs in this environment. A lot of people are still on the fence about how “natural” this news anchor really appears but we will leave it up to the readers to decide.
According to the programmers the news anchor learns from live broadcasting videos of himself and can learn to read text as naturally as a professional news anchor. The important thing to highlight here is that despite its appearance this news anchor is not actually intelligent. This is an important distinction to make because it allows us to define what machines are currently capable of and what they are not. The AI uses sophisticated machine learning algorithms to mimic facial expressions and to really capture the voice and demeanor of a real news anchor to make it appear more lifelike. It is also very good at reading from a script.
In fact, using the term AI news anchor to define this program might be overselling it. This program in essence is a collection of machine learning algorithms combined with a robotic body modeled after a real human so it appears very lifelike. In a lot of ways it is a very sophisticated digital puppet. That description is not intended to take away from its utility but intended to clearly define exactly what we are dealing with because the term “AI” is a very blanket term and the devil is in the details.
A lot of experts and people in general who have been watching this AI’s broadcasts are divided on whether its really a good thing. Some of the benefits as pointed out by its creators are the fact that it can broadcast 24 hours a day on many different platforms which reduces production costs. That may be a nice benefit for the corporation but its not necessarily a benefit to the viewers.
Xinhua, the news agency that now use this AI have also mentioned that it could save money in news anchor salaries and challenge humans for the position. This highlights something that we have mentioned on this blog before and that is the fact that AI will replace most if not all humans in the workforce. It is not a matter of if but a matter of when. At the same time it is important to keep in mind that we are still decades and decades away from that happening because these machines are not nearly as capable yet as they may appear. Some of the disadvantages that have been proclaimed by experts and viewers really put things into perspective.
Michael Woodbridge from the University of Oxford told the BBC “It’s quite difficult to watch for more than a few minutes. It’s very flat, very single-paced, it’s not got rhythm, pace or emphasis.” And compared to a trusted human news anchor, he says that “if you’re just looking at animation you’ve completely lost that connection to an anchor.”
Also this AI is completely devoid of information processing skills and cannot offer the emotional element given by a real journalist. Some of the worlds top news anchors are charismatic and likable and present the news in such a way that they form connections with their viewers. Over time the viewers learn to trust them as a reliable source of information. That is something that an AI news anchor will have an extremely hard time replicating because it is far beyond what machines are currently capable of.
Overall this is the first time AI has been used for an application like this and we are seeing that AI remains very capable and useful but at the same time it is quite clear that these programs are in no way ready to compete with humans when it comes to jobs that require dealing with other humans. There is an emotional element to those kinds of jobs that we have not been able to capture in AI. Perhaps in a few decades we will see some major changes but we have a lot of time to prepare for that. In the meantime it is important to keep a lid on all the hype and keep things in perspective.