Xinhua Unveils First English-Speaking Virtual News Anchor

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12:41 AM HKT, Fri November 9, 2018 1 mins read

Move over, humans. Other humans need to hear the news, and they’ll be damned if they let that information be relayed by like-minded mortal beings. Chinese State media network Xinhua is ready to tackle that problem, with their very first English-speaking “AI news anchor”, a glorified computer program who looks forward to “bringing you the brand new news experiences.”

His appearance and voice are modeled after Zhang Zhao, a real anchor at Xinhua. Honestly, it’s some pretty good modeling. The computer speaks in Zhang’s voice, and offers a believable image of him, complete with (almost) properly moving mouth and natural facial expressions.

The program uses machine learning to speak in Zhang’s voice, after listening through several sample audio clips. It’s one of many such rapidly developing technologies on the rise in China, and one we’ve covered before. Separate programs are used to conduct his body and facial gestures in a natural way, or to match his lips to the words he speaks.

Still, the robo-anchor has a long way to go.

“That voice is a no,” writes one commenter on Twitter. “Keep working on that. It needs to be radio voice pleasant.”

“Looks like he has food in his mouth when he talks,” writes another.

A third commenter questions the necessity of virtual news anchors in the first place:

“Prefer real live human anchor.”

Ok, so the technology isn’t perfect yet. That’s clearly demonstrated at the halfway mark of this newscast, in which the robo-anchor refers to Alibaba Founder Jack Ma as “Jack Massachusetts”. Whoops. Guess this machine still has some learning to do. (Side note, somebody please use the badass name “Jack Massachusetts” for their short play, or USA-themed fan fiction or something.)

Today, Wuzhen’s World Internet Conference; tomorrow, the world.

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