An Indian media group unveiled its first full-time artificial intelligence (AI) news anchor this month—a bot named Sana who presents news updates several times a day. The AI-powered reporter appears on the India Today Group’s Aaj Tak news channel.
“She is bright, gorgeous, ageless, tireless,” said the group’s vice chairperson, Kalli Purie, at a launch event attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sana has a human-like appearance and is fed data that it can read using text-to-speech technology. Since the introduction last November of humanlike chatbot ChatGPT, AI-generated news presenters have gradually been making their mark.
Also Read | ChatGPT: Disruption or fantasy?
In 2018, China’s Xinhua news agency created the world’s first AI-powered male news anchor using computer graphics. Just this year, it debuted its first AI female news anchor. Last month, Russia’s Svoye TV introduced Snezhana Tumanova as its first virtual weather presenter.
Journalism jobs at risk?
The world’s first news channel whose content is generated entirely by artificial intelligence, NewsGPT, was launched in March—ostensibly threatening the jobs of media professionals. Alan Levy, NewsGPT’s CEO, described it is a game changer in the world of news. But as journalism robots proliferate, there is growing concern about their impact.
“AI will definitely have an abiding influence on journalism in general,” Shailaja Bajpai, a media critic, told DW. “However, it is too early to say how deep it will be and how much of a difference it will make.”
“The chances are while bots can do news bulletins, they may not be able to react and conduct debates the way individual anchors do today,” Bajpai added. With three decades experience of writing about the development of television in India, Bajpai maintained that AI was a big challenge.
She suggested that explanatory journalism, on-the-ground reporting, and investigative journalism could be the answer as AI bots may not be able to replicate human observation and experience. “We have to be prepared to change and adapt to withstand this challenge or perish in the attempt,” she said.
Boon or bane?
Media columnist and ombudsperson Pamela Philipose said the threat posed by AI and its applications was real and hinted that the “Alexas” of the newsroom will perform these tasks more efficiently than a journalist drawing a salary in the near future.
“The more multi-layered problem is the potential AI has to create disinformation by design,” Philipose told DW. “Fake news now passed around through WhatsApp texts and images which lead to stolen elections and the stigmatising of targeted communities may appear like child’s play once AI’s full potential in repurposing raw data is realised.”
Many media professionals feel a growing dependence on algorithms and automation threatens to undermine the credibility and trustworthiness of journalism. Besides, the rise of AI also raises concerns about job security and the potential for AI to perpetuate existing biases in the data it uses to generate news.
“Of course, there will be apprehensions if an AI generated presenter is seen as the future,” news anchor Rajdeep Sardesai told DW. “But I recall there were apprehensions when the computer first entered the newsroom too that jobs would be slashed.”
He thinks technology should be regarded as a tool to help and not as a replacement. “We need to use AI and ChatGPT-like apps as aiding a newsroom function not replacing human skill. As for propaganda, does it really need an AI presenter to push it?” asked Sardesai.
Shaping the debate
In recent years, with the rising costs of on-the-ground reporting, prime-time TV news has become dominated by studio debates—where some media houses have become megaphones for the powerful.
Corporate and political influences have overwhelmed media organisations and many commentators believe that a disturbing trend has emerged where instead of speaking truth to power, media organisations have let those in powers decide what the truth should be. “AI anchors and applications could trigger a democratic breakdown in ways not imagined at the present moment. I think that should be our greatest worry,” said Philipose.
Also Read | A new phase of censorship creep in India
Nidhi Razdan, an Indian journalist and television personality, urged caution. She pointed out that the introduction of AI news anchors may need to be regulated to avoid journalism going down a slippery slope.
“Having said that, perhaps AI anchors will do a better job at being objective than their real-life counterparts, most of whom no longer speak truth to power,” said Razdan. “The way forward is to be aware, cautious about what AI brings to the table,” she added.