Meet the UAE's next TV star - a virtual news presenter

The anchor will be the world's first artificial intelligence presenter capable of speaking and reading Arabic

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He does not get tired, go on holiday, demand a pay rise or quit to take a job with a rival channel.

The next television star in the UAE, television bosses hope, will be a virtual news presenter, capable of delivering headlines 24 hours a day.

Abu Dhabi Media has announced a partnership with Sogou, the Chinese search engine and technology giant, to develop the world’s first artificial intelligence news anchor capable of speaking Arabic.

It is hoped that the presenter will be a regular on TV screens within 12 months, with developers in China working on a model with the language, facial expressions and mannerisms.

“It’s more steady than a human, it never makes mistakes,” said Wang Yanfeng, general manager of Sogou’s Voice Interaction Technology Centre, during his visit to Abu Dhabi to announce the deal. “For breaking news it can be there any time, on screen.

"A human may be on vacation or asleep. If there is an accident the machine can be online any time. It is better than the traditional ways to report news.”

In Beijing, there is already an artificial intelligence presenter capable of speaking English and Chinese. It was introduced by Xinhua, China’s state news agency, in November last year, and is being used by two major news outlets.

“The audience has been surprised,” Mr Wang said. “They have seen that the AI presenter is like a human and they never expected it. They know a machine can learn but not that they can express like a human.

“The principles are the same, but it is difficult because the Chinese language is so different from the Arabic language.

"Languages have many rules and the rules are very different, which means the algorithm has to be different. But we are making extra efforts to get a good outcome.”

Managers at Abu Dhabi Media became interested in acquiring their own virtual news presenter after seeing the Chinese model at a major technology conference.

Its channels include Al Emarat TV, Abu Dhabi TV and Abu Dhabi Sports Channels.

The presenter can learn from live broadcasts by itself, Sogou says, and can read texts as naturally as a professional human. But it is not yet able to conduct interviews with human guests.

It is hoped that as the technology develops, it will have other applications, such as in developing virtual classroom teachers or doctors.

The process of teaching Arabic to a virtual news presenter will help Sogou to develop these services and in its automatic language translation projects, Mr Wang said.

The deal to develop the AI news anchor for Abu Dhabi TV channels was signed at a ceremony attended by Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, on Sunday.

The development is taking place in China but testing for viewer experience will be carried out in the UAE.

“The use of artificial intelligence and technological tools in the media sector will result in a qualitative leap forward within the media landscape in the UAE and the wider region,” Mr Al Olama said.

“The use of these advanced solutions will benefit the industry by enriching media content, supporting media research and providing new opportunities for young professionals to build new skill sets suited to future media channels.”

The AI news anchor would help Abu Dhabi Media “write a new chapter in the Arab media”, said Ali bin Tamim, director general of the government-owned company.

“Through this agreement, Abu Dhabi Media will develop this technology and present it to its audience, enhancing the company's presence and the quality of its content, further bolstering its leading position as one of the most prestigious media establishments in the region and the world,” he said.