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Innovation of the Week: An artificially intelligent news anchor

This photo illustration shows a man watching an artificial intelligence (AI) news anchor from a state-controlled news broadcaster, on his computer in Beijing on November 9, 2018. - China's state-controlled news broadcasters have long been considered somewhat robotic in their daily recitation of pro-government propaganda, and a pair of new presenters will do little to dispel that view. (Photo by Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP)NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
An artificial intelligence (AI) news anchor from a state-controlled news broadcaster.

What is it? Artificially intelligent news anchor

Innovator China’s state news agency

What were they thinking? News anchors with Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, are a critical government mouthpiece. But they can get sick. They have family business to tend to. They’re so, well, human. But Xinhua and Sogou, the Chinese tech giant, recently unveiled an answer to this pesky problem at the World Internet Conference: the first ever AI news anchor.

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Did it work? The AI anchor looks like an actual Xinhua presenter and will read any text punched into the system. But the voice is a little robotic. Professor Michael Woolridge of Oxford told the BBC it’s stuck somewhere in “uncanny valley,” a term used to describe human-like robots that aren’t quite natural. “It’s quite difficult to watch for more than a few minutes. It’s very flat, very single-paced. It’s not got rhythm, pace or emphasis,” says Woolridge, a computer scientist. Looks like the state news agency will have to rely on human automatons for the foreseeable future.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe