Don’t let the man’s sharp suit fool you into thinking he’s a human being. He’s actually a virtual news anchor who’s the product of a partnership between Xinhua News and Chinese search engine Sogou. The VR anchor has its appearance, mannerisms, and voice based on real-life anchor Zhang Zhao. Watch him/it in action:
This anchor currently exists as more of a proof-of-concept instead of a concrete plan to replace real human news anchors. Xinhua is testing the applications and benefits of a virtual anchor.
For one, being a computing program, the virtual anchor can be copied and used in multiple locations at the same time, providing info on multiple stories simultaneously.
Second, the virtual anchor utilizes artificial intelligence to sort through tons of data and relevant information, providing coherent stories quickly and efficiently as data is fed into it nonstop.
Lastly, a virtual anchor costs a news organization significantly less money over time than a human one, due to paying out wages, insurance, etc. Need to go on the air at 3 a.m. because of breaking news? You don’t have to wake up ol’ Johnny Hairdo and get him into makeup. Just press a button.
People definitely prefer a human element in their news, especially when the news is tragic. At our current level of technology, it’s highly unlikely that a virtual news anchor could accurately replicate the emotional gravitas that a human anchor would show while covering a tragic event. However, it is important to note that this virtual anchor is operating from China, which features one of the world’s most tightly controlled media censorship regimes. The media there generally lacks a human element anyway. Perhaps a virtual anchor developed in a country that places more emphasis on humanity and free information in the media would turn out differently.
The emergence of virtual anchors who report based on being force-fed massive amounts of information could have drastic implications in the modern era of fake news. In countries with state-controlled news sources like China, it would be incredibly easy to feed information to an AI news anchor, regardless of the information’s factuality. Even in countries without state-controlled media, the massive amount of misinformation and fake news that is spread through the internet, especially through social media, could potentially confuse a virtual anchor into reporting misleading, sensationalist, or downright wrong information.
What do you think about the idea of virtual news anchors? Let us know!