There are a lot of things that we sacrifice for the sake of efficiency, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say these Chinese CGI news anchors controlled by AI take things just a bit too far.
For example, I get it when a business cuts back on expensive corporate retreats and removing cool startup perks like frozen yogurt bars and Dance Dance Revolution machines and instead puts that money into research and development.
All of those moves make sense. But when a country like China — which isn't too friendly towards journalists reporting on government and corporate corruption — busts out a computer-programmed news anchor under the guise of cutting costs it's a bad look.
Speaking of bad look, watching this CGI-guy in motion is eerie. Does he look real? Yes. Extremely real. Scary real. To the naked eye, he just looks like a handsome man with maybe a little too much makeup who is sitting at a perfectly lit news desk.
"What's the big deal?" You may be asking yourself, "If a news agency wants to run their company with a bunch of CGI news anchors, then let them. Maybe they can get silly and get like a video game character behind the desk or something to make it more entertaining, so I'll actually watch it!"
Now although I totally agree that it'd be amazing to see a CGI Bowser tell me about a congressional vote gone awry or a natural disaster that wiped out someone's potato farm, this CGI-anchor was created by China's State-Run news agency.
So a computer program will provide round-the-clock coverage on the stories the government wants you to hear. Doesn't sound like Blade Runner at all. Nope.
And if you can't get over how lifelife the anchors look, that's because they're modeled after real journalists.
Zhang Zhao and Qiu Hao report the news in English and Chinese. What's important to note is that these two computer anchors aren't CGI avatars like you'd see in a really boring Pixar movie — the stories they're reporting on are generated with AI.
The artificial intelligence software pumping the reports these robo-reporters spew out were developed by the Xinhua News Agency and a search engine company called Sogou.
The software scans the most trending and "relevant" news stories and automatically delivers the news to viewers, while being monitored by the Xinhua news team.
Fittingly, the first story they reported on was the 2018 World Internet Conference in Wuzhen,. Zhejiang and the anchors introduced themselves as the creepy computers they are.
"Hello everyone, I am an English Artificial Intelligence Anchor. This is my very first day in Xinhua News Agency."
"My voice and appearance are modelled on Zhang Zhao, a real anchor with Xinhua. I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted," the anchor said.
The AI scanned and modeled the mouth and lip movements of the journalists to mimic their real-life idiosyncrasies to a T, but there's something off about them.
The Daily Mail reported that Weibo (a popular Chinese social media platform) users have had adverse reactions to these computer-generated anchors. Some said the robo-anchors' voices were "too stiff" and didn't pause at the right moments. Probably has to do with the fact that they're robots.
Others were upset that the "normal" presenters seemed to be getting fired, while others just wondered what the whole "point" of these CGI anchors were and that they preferred the real thing to some AI-created simulation of a human being.
As far as the Xinhua news agency is concerned, however, this is all an exercise in efficiency. They remarked that the benefits of having a robo-anchor (at least from their side) are numerous: the anchors are available 24 hours a day. News production costs are greatly reduced, and the ease with which breaking news stories can be brought to viewers surpasses what any human can accomplish.
If you're a producer, this takes a lot off of your plate. You never have to properly light a studio. You never have to worry about camera operators or makeup and hair artists. You never have to worry about sick days or an anchor being "off."
The obvious rebuttal to that is, "yes but at what cost?" And it's a fair question, but not one that's likely to stop the growth of artificial intelligence across multiple industries. Heck, Elon Musk has been saying for a long time that we need to institute AI regulations and start developing strategies for controlling it before it gets out of hand.
However, with reports like this, which project the massive financial gains that could come with automation, it doesn't look like companies are going to back down from using the rapidly developing and constantly improving technology to help their bottom line.
For example, China's GDP could be bolstered by 0.8 to 1.4 percent by instituting the available artificial intelligence solutions that are on the market right now. Who knows what those profit margins could look like once AI proves to be a legitimate money-making solution?
While there are many opinions on how AI should be implemented in the workplace or if it should be implemented at all, people generally fall into two camps: either it's catastrophic for humanity or amazing.
Artifical Intelligence pros and cons
The good: some analysts think the many mundane and repetitive work tasks that currently employ human beings could be entirely outsourced to automation. Many even project that coding and intense programming language knowledge will be made obsolete once machines just learn to "figure it out" themselves.
This could lead to a boon in more human pursuits: let us focus on our passions and developing "big picture" initiatives for ourselves, our communities, and the world while robots do the stuff we hate doing. There's more time for us to innovate and advance as a species.
The bad: let's be honest, if you take two seconds to look at the history of humankind and how we consistently ruin a good thing, then you'll know it's not likely to end up all rainbows and butterflies for humankind.
Artificial intelligence will grow to become more prevalent and probably beyond our control. And while likening the fate of humankind to what ultimately plays out in the Terminator movies, it's not an entirely unrealistic scenario.
How will people react to an ever-evolving robo-code that automates every aspect of our lives through super-advanced machine learning? Do you think we'll be quick enough to create a new purpose and meaning for our lives after robots have taken on everything we're used to doing for ourselves? I don't think so.
Anyway, sorry to bum you out, enjoy your new CGI news anchors!
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