A flurry of launches during the last four months, has seen India emerge as a hotbed for Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven robotic news presenters of regional Indian television channels.
The latest entrant is Lisa, the AI news anchor who debuted on the Odia language TV channel, Odisha TV. She is bilingual and speaks Odia and English too.
Here is a YouTube clip of OTV’s media launch of Lisa. She joins robotic anchors in at least five other Indian languages in recent months.
The development has attracted the attention of international media and reportage in recent days, in news media from Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post to the US-based satellite broadcaster, CNN, plus multiple web-based technology news sites.
The experiment started in March this year, when at the annual India Today Conclave in Delhi, the group launched what it claimed as India’s first AI news anchor, Sana for the Aaj Tak channel.
She reads news headlines during a news programme before handing over to — or even interacting with — a human presenter. She famously debuted by interacting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the conclave.
Here is a YouTube clip of a typical Sana newscast. She has been known to speak in Hindi, English and Bangla — and when the Prime Minister visited France recently — in French.
In April, the Malayalam TV channel, MediaOne presented its own TV news anchor, Ivan, a rare male in the lineup of AI-driven speaking humanoid robots in India.
He often takes over the task of presenting the daily 10pm “Sharp Ten” headlines. Here is Ivan introducing his service to viewers and anchoring a short segment.
In Three Southern Languages
The South has been rather more proactive than other regions in embracing this new technology in the television world.
Big TV has brought the first AI anchor in Telugu — Maya. A 15-member-strong team of AI experts helped launch Maya, explains Big TV CEO Ajay Reddy. For a flavour of Maya at work, check out this YouTube clip.
Viewers in Kannada, have a choice of two AI news anchors: Within days of each other, earlier this month, Power TV launched Soundarya while News First Kannada debuted Maya. They appear both on live television and digital channels.
News First Kannada CEO S Ravikumar is quoted at BestMediaInfo.com this week clarifying that Maya is not just a mouth and lip synching anchor… AI anchors are ‘reading’ the news, but AI Maya is "talking to her viewers.”
She is getting over 2,000 questions a day via Whatsapp, he added. Maya will also deliver news in English. Here is a clip of Maya delivering news in Kannada.
Up North, News18 Punjab/Haryana launched its AI Anchor, AI Kaur at its educational summit in June where her first words were ‘Sat Sri Akal’.
There is global interest in how the Indian language experiments in AI-based robot news readers pan out — and some discussion on the extent to which AI may influence news selection and bias or even propagate fake news when tools like ChatGPT are available.
But from what these desi AI anchors have been doing in recent weeks, these fears may be unfounded, because Indian channels have been largely using these speaking bots sensibly, as ways to deliver news that has been created and fed by human editors.
There is no indication that AI is being used for news selection — since on a particular day, the news read by the AI anchors and human anchors hardly varies.
Ever since the Chinese news agency Xinhua launched the world’s first newscast by an AI news reader in February 2018, there has been much discussion on where this will lead.
Media watchers agree that mundane news desk tasks like compiling and delivering weather bulletins, financial market statistics or sports results can be usefully entrusted to bots since no editorial judgment is involved and this will relieve human reporters of mundane tasks.
An AI-bot cannot cover a live news event or provide analysis or a critique of news. Such things will remain human tasks.
Before India, nations like Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia and Taiwan are known to have tried AI TV anchors after China launched it.
But the multiple Indian language efforts in deploying intelligent news reading bots is the most wide ranging effort by any country so far.
The ability of AI to translate the same matter and create credible speaking voices in multiple languages on the fly is obviously a consideration in a country where TV already broadcasts in a dozen or more languages.
So far, AI-fuelled news presentation is being used in this country, either as a novelty or as an aid to bridge the gap between broadcast TV and digital online channels from the same group.
The Indian experience may be a pointer to what can and cannot be done, what should and shouldn't be done, when introducing AI into the news studio.
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