Xinhua News Agency introduced so-called “composite anchors”

China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency introduced so-called “composite anchors”, combining the images and voices of human anchors with artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency introduced so-called “composite anchors”, combining the images and voices of human anchors with artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

State news outlet Xinhua announced that it had, in collaboration with search engine Sogou, created the world’s first female AI news anchor, known as Xin Xiaomeng. The anchor will make “her” debut during the upcoming Two Sessions political meetings at the start of March.

It’s not clear exactly what technology has been used to create the anchors, but they’re in line with the most recent machine learning research. It seems that Xinhua has used footage of human anchors as a base layer, and then animated parts of the mouth and face to turn the speaker into a virtual puppet. By combining this with a synthesized voice, Xinhua can program the digital anchors to read the news, far quicker than using traditional CGI.

Xinhua and Sogou said that they also developed an improved male anchor called Xin Xiaohao, who is also able to stand up and gesticulate and has more natural mouth movements.

The technology has its limitations. In the videos above and below of the English-speaking anchor, it’s obvious that the range of facial expressions are limited, and the voice is clearly artificial. But machine learning research in this area is making swift improvements, and it’s not hard to imagine a future where AI anchors are indistinguishable from the real thing.

But while these examples fall clearly into the world of entertainment, having AI anchors read the news suggests the technology could become more than a novelty.

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