OPINION: Chinese artificial intelligence raises questions about misuse


The Appalachian Online

Savannah Nguyen, Senior A&C Reporter

Leave it to the inventors of the papermaking and printing processes to bring the world of news into the year 3018. On the world stage of broadcast journalism, China debuted two new news anchors. The reporters, the first of their kind, are completely digital despite their human-looking forms. Xinhua, a state-run Chinese press agency in conjunction with Sogou.com, a local search engine company, introduced the world to its first artificial intelligence news commentators.

Some may see this historic event as a scene straight out of “Black Mirror,” choosing to envision the presence of these new avatars as the foreshadowing of mankind’s inevitable demise. 

However, despite how close it may seem to the end of the human race, China’s new toy is far from the AI represented in our culture’s cinematic dramatization. Maybe this is media’s way of jazzing up news after experiencing a state of steady decline in the past decade.

The avatars, although they may look intimidating, only communicate to the camera through an algorithm; they are simply reading text fed to them by humans. The technology is much less daunting when held up to its equivalent, which is basically an over-glorified and overly-complicated text to speech application.

Therefore, putting the potential of complete robotic takeover on the back burner, the real danger of China’s new virtual puppet lies in the intentions of the puppeteers themselves.

In the grasp of Chinese censorship, the state-run news agency is at the mercy of what the government wants to report. Therefore, the AI anchor, who will “work tirelessly to keep you informed” with absolutely no ethical or moral allegiances, has no aversions to potentially forwarding propaganda.

The Chinese government said the goal of this breed of technological advancement will help boost economic profits in medical and military fields especially, and now in journalism. However, what is at risk when the human element of journalism is replaced with an automated message coming from a projected image?

Undoubtedly, AI anchors in the future can be useful in replacing human journalists during times when they need to report on dangerous topics such as conflict, whether it be local or overseas.

However, whether in the future AI is utilized to propagate political agendas aimed at brainwashing people or not, there still stands the issue of the technology being misused in other ways. Although neither party, Xinhua or Sogou.com, revealed how the animations were created, it is only a matter of time before it is replicated. Soon the mechanics will be accessible enough for tech savvy individuals serving malevolent purposes to turn the phrase artificial intelligence into a dirty word.

Inherently, when the conversation surrounding the topic is shrouded in apprehension and fear, the potential for this technology to do good will be overshadowed by those with malicious intent.

The advancement of machine learning technology going into the future will undoubtedly lead to exponential technological growth, but how it will be applied will vary.

However, experimentation can be stunted in the presence of baleful intent and censorship at the hands of those who want to misuse the technology, leaving the demise of humankind not in the digital embrace of rogue robots, but rather at the power of their creators.

Written by: Savannah Nguyen, A&E Reporter