In the era of false news, false presenters are already here. The Xinhua news agency has unveiled its new additions this week: two television broadcasters created from artificial intelligence.
The avatars of the presenters of flesh and bone Zhang Zhao and Qiu Han, fruit of a collaboration between Xinhua and the internet search engine Sogou, have been developed from images of their "parents", combined with facial recognition programs, 3D reconstruction, speech synthesizer, facial expression reproduction and automatic translation, among others.
The new "talking busts" will be used to generate videos and present breaking news, the Chinese news agency has indicated.
"Hi all. I am a presenter in English made with artificial intelligence. It's my first day at the Xinhua news agency. My voice and my appearance are based on Zhang Zhao … The development of the media sector requires continuous innovation and deep integration with international advanced technologies, "announces Zhao" in a lie "in a video presented at the World Congress of Internet in Wuzhen (East China), the annual meeting with which the Chinese Government presents its vision of cyberspace. "I will work tirelessly to keep you informed, as texts will be introduced into my system without interruption. I really want to bring you the new news experiences. "
The virtual presenters have a very realistic appearance. They blink and raise their eyebrows when speaking. His mouth moves in sync with the words. But they are easily distinguishable from a real one. Your facial expressions are still limited. His voice sounds metallic, without nuances of intonation.
That is still. There is little doubt that technology will be perfected and the border between reality and artificiality will be increasingly blurred. Although with different technology, virtual beings like the Japanese singer Hatsune Miku they have already become stars in the artistic world.
"Virtual assistants are becoming increasingly popular as an efficient way to solve daily problems", Explained the CEO of Sogou, Wang Xiaochuan, in statements collected by the newspaper China Daily. As he has stated, creating more realistic virtual characters "will allow this technology to become more and more an integral part of daily life".
Sogou estimates that these "virtual assistants" may not be just TV presenters. Also professionals of customer service, teachers or even doctors.
For now, Xinhua has already started using its new additions in its service. This Thursday, the virtual Zhang Zhao presented information about the gigantic import fair this week in Shanghai that the Chinese government has organized with great fanfare.
Among the advantages of these cybernetic presenters, is the reduction in costs and the increase in productivity. According to Xinhua, "Zhang" and "Qiu" "can work 24 hours a day on their official website and on different social media platforms, reducing the costs of news production and improving efficiency."
And, in a China where the information is heavily censored, these presenters are not at risk of making mistakes or telling a story they do not owe. Or to ask one of those questions that tempt an official to try to snatch the microphone from a journalist, as was the case this week in the White House.
For now, the first reactions in Chinese social networks have been skeptical. "At first it seems authentic, but when you listen to it a bit it sounds artificial, without any life. The sensation that it generates is discomfort, I do not know if it is because the intonation is not that of a normal person, "says a cybernaut on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter. "Is the TV presenter sector heading for a big cleanup? On the internet, who distinguishes who is a person and who is a robot? "Asks another.