Here in the United States, concerns about objectivity have dominated discussions about the media in recent years — as much of America’s press have found themselves at odds with President Trump’s administration. These politically motivated tensions have created an unusual news reporting environment, in which outlets lean into biases and readers seek the outlet that offers the bias they most prefer. The American media machine is certainly imperfect. But for all its flaws, it offers a vital service to the American people thanks to one simple fact: the media in the U.S. is free.
In nations like Russia and China, on the other hand, the news media is nothing more than an extension of the government’s communications department. The news that gets reported in these nations maintains a very different tone than the news we’re accustomed to here in the United States. Government initiatives are sold to the people via news outlets, perceptions of the international world are shaped by government-directed content, and journalists are provided lists of topics they’re not allowed to discuss. Controlling the media means controlling the perceptions of the populace, and nations like China are well aware of the importance of managing domestic perceptions.
The newest Chinese story to make the rounds on the internet could offer a glimpse into the future of Chinese media. China’s state-owned news agency, Xinhua News, recently introduced their newest anchor: a computer generated graphic coupled with artificial intelligence to create what may be the creepiest news report you’ll ever see. Here’s a clip of their new artificial anchor reading the news in English:
Xinhua AI anchor, launched on Wednesday, starts presenting news reports from Thursday. In this program, he takes you to have a look at what a Panama official and the Chinese businessman Jack Ma say about the ongoing #CIIE. pic.twitter.com/OZkRQtv1sQ
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) November 8, 2018
As you can see in the video, the computer generated imaging of China’s artificial anchor are disturbingly realistic, especially when coupled with the comparatively choppy and underwhelming computer-generated voice. It may still be some time before the new anchor’s speech cadence and delivery perfectly approximate human speech characteristics, but that seems like a fairly small hurdle to overcome in a technological market full of Siris and Alexas.
According Xinhua News, their AI anchor offers a number of advantages over our traditional meat-based alternatives. These computer generated news reporters don’t require food, rest, or sleep — meaning they can function 24 hours a day on Xinhua’s website and social media pages. It also costs considerably less to manufacture a studio with perfect lighting and excellent sound design inside a computer, as compared to the costs of operating traditional studios.
It’s hard to say if the people of China will take to their latest tech-based news reporter, but if they do, we may begin to see more streamlined versions of the same thing in other nations as well. There may even be a day when Americans come to trust their seemingly unbiased robot-presenters more than their flawed human counterparts.
Human beings, after all, can’t be programmed to be objective.