In a first from the news reporting world, a Japanese robot will be anchoring a news segment starting in April. The robot, named ‘Erica’, was developed by Hiroshi Ishiguro, the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University.
Erica resembles a young woman reporter and her voice has been dubbed to sound like a 23-year old’s. According to this report by Sanvada, Erica can process sound from its source and also from it’s interaction with human beings. Using audio processing, the robot can easily distinguish different sounds from a conversation. According to Mr. Ishiguro, this is done using a model called the advanced speech synthesis system.
It can also track movement around it with 15 inbuilt infrared sensors using object detection algorithms. However, Erica does not have functional arms and legs. That is, it can talk but cannot move, because it doesn’t have to. The job involves reading the news from behind the desk and it has been able to do that without any issues during the test runs. Erica will not be involved in collecting or curating the news, so it won’t qualify as a reporter.
Mr. Ishiguro revealed that he tried to get Erica on-air almost four years ago but things didn’t quite work out then. He has since programmed the robot to develop a consciousness of it’s own. He claims Erica has a “soul”, and has feelings like a real person. This, as we can imagine, has been received controversially. The debate will rage on for quite a while when it comes to the metaphysical aspect of artificial intelligence.
Our take on this
This is quite a big deal in the journalistic world. AI has been extending it’s capabilities in different fields and this is the first major breakthrough in the world of news reporting. So far, the robot will only be acting as a news anchor but it won’t be long before it’s abilities include collating and collecting the news as well. As for the robot developing a personality of it’s own, it remains to be seen how it impacts the people who’s jobs it will be replacing. Will it replace reporters out in the field covering events? Will it be able to ask questions in press conferences? We’ll just have to wait and watch.