News anchors are beneficial to society in many ways. It’s nice to have someone read you the news, as opposed to having to read it yourself. News anchors also look very pleasant, with faces that are often close to symmetrical as well as very good teeth.
But they do have their downsides. They’re expensive; noted news anchor Megyn Kelly cost NBC a reported $69 million dollars. They’re also prone to malfunctioning at times; Kelly recently questioned, live on air, “what is racist” about white people wearing blackface for Halloween.
There could be a solution on the horizon. Meet the Xinhua AI news anchor, which made its debut at the China International Import Expo.
There are obviously some kinks to be worked out. Its delivery isn’t as smooth as one would like. And it’s not clear if its banter in between segments would be fun — can this AI convincingly gently chuckle about a local sports team, or express hope that the rain goes away for the weekend? On the other hand, its suit looks very sharp. Also, its hair and glasses really convey intelligence, to me.
And as with all things AI-related, the potential must be measured against the possible risk. One such risk: A CGI newscaster could be programmed to say nearly anything, and Xinhua is the Chinese state media agency. The potential for abuse by Chinese authorities if the AI technology ever became a convincing facsimile of a human news anchor is obvious.
More worryingly, I think, is tech like this going too far. Already the Associated Press has experimented with using AI to write automated wire stories, and major outlets have experimented with using bots to write up sports scores. The dangers of this going too far should be obvious. AI and tech leaders musttake action to ensure that an AI agent never develops the ability to skim Twitter and RSS feeds in order to find short news items and produce 300 to 400 words about its findings. That is a task too vital for us to turn over to machines.