Wednesday, September 22, 2021


AI offers a fresh shock – and a further threat

China’s robotic news presenter draws sneers, but the bugs will soon be worked out, and then the next mission begins 



The BBC’s own news presenters wore smirks recently in reporting the world’s first artificial-intelligence news anchor, seen on Chinese TV, an experiment they characterised as somewhat insulting to their profession. 
They cited an Oxford professor’s impression that the “virtual newsreader” lacked rhythm and personality. And, he said, the robotic replacement could be detrimental to viewers’ general regard for news anchors as trustworthy public figures.
To be fair, though, the Chinese have only just begun exploring the broader potential of AI. As futuristic as the Xinhua news agency’s robot appeared, it will very soon seem utterly outdated. Whereas American politics has deteriorated to the point where Russian technology is blamed for tilting US elections, China has kept its focus on scientific progress that’s astonishing the world.
The BBC could have offered a more sober assessment of the gadget-anchorperson, given China’s no-nonsense forward charge that has produced high-velocity trains, a possible breakthrough in teleportation and maybe even, finally, a viable replacement for oil as the planet’s chief source of energy. In about 10 years, the advancements we see today will look as old-fashioned as fax machines.
Chinese developers will swiftly overcome the Oxford professor’s concerns about the robot’s sputtering rhythm and metallic personality. Robots still look like awkward machines, but they’re performing work that science-fiction writers of old could only dream about. Self-driving cars are now a reality, robots provide basic hospital care and monitor the ill and elderly at home, and AI is hovering over a multitude of other professions, including flight attendants and restaurant wait staff.
AI copywriters are at the same fledgling stage as Xinhua’s mechanical newsreader, but soon they will be threatening the job prospects of their human counterparts. Aircraft have flown on auto-pilot for decades, and if self-driving cars can spot hazards better than human drivers, then robotic pilots can surely also outperform human pilots. And anyone who doubts that robots will soon be cooking haute cuisine need only look at what modern vending machines accomplish.
We once marvelled at genteel robot C-3PO’s linguistic abilities in “Star Wars” and now have smartphone apps that do even better, translating languages back and forth in real time and assuring tourists their requests for directions and their food orders will be understood anywhere in the world.
So count on Xinhua or other news agencies to soon enough present viewers with a robot talking head that’s not just tirelessly covering entire 24-hour news cycles but also putting some emotion and expression into the broadcast. It’s no idle prediction if you’ve seen how frighteningly real video games have become with their digital artistry.
In this increasingly sophisticated world, who takes the time to think back to man’s discovery of fire – or the immense progress achieved since then, right up to the virtual newsreader? The AI anchorperson is poised to do to the media industry what robot nurses and doctors are doing in the field of medicine and what AI drivers are doing on the road. Some will regard it as good news – and some as awful – that we don’t have long to wait before we witness the revolution.

Published : November 16, 2018

By : The Nation