Friday February 22, 2019
Home Lead Story World’s...

World’s First AI News Anchor Debuts From China

The analyst urges China to open up and include multinational software and services to contribute to its digital economic transformation.

0
//
AI News ANchor
Xinhua news anchor Qiu Hao stands next to an AI virtual news anchor based on him, at a Sogou booth during an expo at the fifth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China. VOA

China’s state-run Xinhua News has debuted what it called the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) anchor. But the novelty has generated more dislikes than likes online among Chinese netizens, with many calling the new virtual host “a news-reading device without a soul.”

Analysts say the latest creation has showcased China’s short-term progress in voice recognition, text mining and semantic analysis, but challenges remain ahead for its long-term ambition of becoming an AI superpower by 2030.

Nonhuman anchors

Collaborating with Chinese search engine Sogou, Xinhua introduced two AI anchors, one for English broadcasts and the other for Chinese, both of which are based on images of the agency’s real newscasters, Zhang Zhao and Qiu Hao respectively.

In its inaugural broadcast last week, the English-speaking anchor was more tech cheerleader than newshound, rattling off lines few anchors would be caught dead reading, such as: “the development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies.”

AI 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, VOA

It also promised “to work tirelessly to keep you [audience] informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted” 24/7 across multiple platforms simultaneously if necessary, according to the news agency.

No soul

Local audiences appear to be unimpressed, critiquing the news bots’ not so human touch and synthesized voices.

On Weibo, China’s Twitterlike microblogging platform, more than one user wrote that such anchors have “no soul,” in response to Xinhua’s announcement. And one user joked: “what if we have an AI [country] leader?” while another questioned what it stands for in terms of journalistic values by saying “What a nutcase. Fake news is on every day.”

Others pondered the implication AI news bots might have on employment and workers.

“It all comes down to production costs, which will determine if [we] lose jobs,” one Weibo user wrote. Some argued that only low-end labor-intensive jobs will be easily replaced by intelligent robots while others gloated about the possibility of employers utilizing an army of low-cost robots to make a fortune.

AI News ANchor
The creation showcases China’s progress in voice recognition. Flickr

A simple use case

Industry experts said the digital anchor system is based on images of real people and possibly animated parts of their mouths and faces, with machine-learning technology recreating humanlike speech patterns and facial movements. It then uses a synthesized voice for the delivery of the news broadcast.

The creation showcases China’s progress in voice recognition, text mining and semantic analysis, all of which is covered by natural language processing, according to Liu Chien-chih, secretary-general of Asia IoT Alliance (AIOTA).

But that’s just one of many aspects of AI technologies, he wrote in an email to VOA.

Given the pace of experimental AI adoption by Chinese businesses, more user scenarios or designs of user interface can be anticipated in China, Liu added.

Chris Dong, director of China research at the market intelligence firm IDC, agreed the digital anchor is as simple as what he calls a “use case” for AI-powered services to attract commercials and audiences.

AI News Anchor
Others pondered the implication AI news bots might have on employment and workers.

He said, in an email to VOA, that China has fast-tracked its big data advantage around consumers or internet of things (IoT) infrastructure to add commercial value.

Artificial Intelligence has also allowed China to accelerate its digital transformation across various industries or value chains, which are made smarter and more efficient, Dong added.

Far from a threat to the US

But both said China is far from a threat to challenge U.S. leadership on AI given its lack of an open market and respect for intellectual property rights (IPRs) as well as its lagging innovative competency on core AI technologies.

Earlier, Lee Kai-fu, a well-known venture capitalist who led Google before it pulled out of China, was quoted by news website Tech Crunch as saying that the United States may have created Artificial Intelligence, but China is taking the ball and running with it when it comes to one of the world’s most pivotal technology innovations.

Lee summed up four major drivers behind his observation that China is beating the United States in AI: abundant data, hungry entrepreneurs, growing AI expertise and massive government support and funding.

AI News Anchor
People watching the AI News Anchor

Beijing has set a goal to become an AI superpower by 2030, and to turn the sector into a $150 billion industry.

Yet, IDC’s Dong cast doubts on AI’s adoption rate and effectiveness in China’s traditional sectors. Some, such as the manufacturing sector, is worsening, he said.

He said China’s “state capitalism may have its short-term efficiency and gain, but over the longer-term, it is the open market that is fundamental to building an effective innovation ecosystem.”

The analyst urges China to open up and include multinational software and services to contribute to its digital economic transformation.

Also Read: Heavy Cyber Attacks From Russia, US, China in India

“China’s ‘Made-in-China 2025’ should go back to the original flavor … no longer Made and Controlled by Chinese, but more [of] an Open Platform of Made-in-China that both local and foreign players have a level-playing field,” he said.

In addition to a significant gap in core technologies, China’s failure to uphold IPRs will go against its future development of AI software, “which is often sold many-fold in the U.S. than in China as the Chinese tend to think intangible assets are free,” AIOTA’s Liu said. (VOA)

Next Story

African Swine Fever Affects China’s Pork Industry

China Faces Challenges in Containing Swine Flu Infection.

0
Swine Flu, China
FILE - Workers disinfect passing vehicles in an area having the latest incident of African swine flu outbreak on the outskirts of Beijing, China, Nov. 23, 2018. VOA

The Year of the Pig is getting off to a rough start in China as the world’s largest consumer of pork and home to half the world’s pigs struggles to contain the spread of the African swine fever (ASF) virus.

Recent incidents, where traces of the virus were found in samples of frozen pork dumplings, suggest the outbreak is more widespread than has been reported, analysts said.

They add that the disease could have devastating socioeconomic consequences for both Chinese consumers and the global pig industry.

Latest outbreaks

Over the weekend, food safety regulators in southern Hunan and northwest Gansu provinces identified traces of the virus in pork products, including frozen dumplings.

The first outbreaks of African swine flu showed up in the northeastern province of Liaoning in August of last year.

Since then, China has reported more than 100 outbreaks from 25 of the country’s 34 provincial-level administrative units, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization under the United Nations.

Of China’s population of 430 million pigs, nearly one million have been culled because there’s not yet a vaccine to prevent and halt the spread of the virus.

 

China, Swine Flu
Slaughtered pigs are on display at a heaviest pig contest on the eighth day of the Chinese Lunar New Year of the pig, in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, China, Feb. 12, 2019. VOA

The losses have added pressure to local pig farmers, who are already be set with rising feed costs brought on by U.S.-China trade frictions.

Food scare

Chinese authorities have worked with food manufacturers to address the latest outbreaks, but it remains unclear if all contaminated frozen pork products have been located and destroyed.

Although the virus poses no risk to human health, people are likely to be one of the carriers of the disease and can spread the virus through contaminated water or waste food.

The disease is highly contagious among domestic and wild pigs and the virus is very difficult to eradicate. It can survive for an hour at boiling temperatures, days in the environment, weeks in meat or even months in frozen meat products.

It has taken some European countries more than a decade to eradicate the virus after it was first introduced to Georgia in 2007.

Under control?

Prior to recent outbreaks, Chinese authorities claimed the country’s infection had been brought under control an assertion analysts find unlikely.

“This is not impossible, but unlikely given the enormously high density of domestic pigs in China over a geographical space larger than France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands combined,” Dirk Pfeiffer, the chair professor of One Health from the City University of Hong Kong’s college of veterinary medicine and life sciences, said in an email to VOA.

Another challenge is China’s “high proportion of small to medium size pig farms with low biosecurity which don’t have the financial means to invest into better facilities,” he added.

The professor expressed concern over the possibility of under-reporting by Chinese farmers as they may not be provided an adequate level of compensation when pigs are culled.

China, swine flu
FILE – Workers in protective clothing operate heavy machinery at a sealed-off pig farm after the latest incident of African swine flu outbreak on the outskirts of Beijing, China, Nov. 23, 2018. VOA

China offers $179 (1,200 yuan) for each culled pig.

The dilemma lies in the balance, he said. If the compensation is too low, farmers are less likely to report. But too high, some may be incentivized to introduce the disease themselves and collect the fee.

Chinese officials have called on all stakeholders in the industry to cooperate with its efforts in stopping the virus’ spread.

Although few of its neighbors, such as Hong Kong, Macau and Mongolia, import pork from China, the epidemic still puts many other Asian countries at high risk. Vietnam, in particular, is one of the 10 largest pork producers in the world and shares a border with China.

Cross-border transmission

On Tuesday,the Animal Health Department of Vietnam, confirmed the country’s first outbreaks of the infection on three farms located in Hung Yen and Thai Binh provinces, southeast of the capital, Hanoi, claiming that all pigs had been culled.

Analysts said the epidemic will change the landscape of pig industries in China and globally.

“There will be a shift towards larger farms which can afford better facilities and that also means they are able to implement better biosecurity,” professor Pfeiffer said.

The feeding of waste food to pigs will decline because the practice is a common mechanism for spreading this virus, he added.

Deng Jinping, an animal science professor at South China Agricultural University, said he’s confident China has taken all necessary steps, including a ban on kitchen waste to pigs.

Enforcement, however, is always key for a sprawling country like China.

ALSO READ: Tai Chi: An art of Health and Wellness

But the crisis, he added, will present opportunities for the country’s massive pork industry to foster a better future.

“The butchery industry may be forced to seek a better development. Many would hope that the [long distance] transport of live pigs will be replaced by the use of refrigerated transportation. That will better manage risks for the third parties or across different regions. So, big changes to the industry can be expected,” Deng said. (VOA)