AI News Presenters Mix Truth and Reality-Here's Why Experts Say That's a Problem

Get ready for your news to come via AI

  • Kuwait News has unveiled its first AI-powered virtual news presenter. 
  • Experts say AI newscasters could help spread disinformation. 
  • AI is threatening to replace human workers in many industries. 
Illustration of a robot delivering the news as a news anchor.

Zentangle / Getty Images

A Middle East media company is launching its first virtual news presenter using artificial intelligence (AI), and experts say it's a sign of how sorting truth from reality is getting tricky. 

The AI anchor "Fedha" recently appeared on the Twitter account of Kuwait News. It's one of a growing number of AI uses that could confuse viewers. 

"This is a significant and very real threat," former news anchor Neeha Curtis told Lifewire in an email interview. "We've seen disinformation campaigns and viral deep fakes spread at a rapid rate across the globe. Remember the image of the Pope wearing a fashionable puffy jacket that went viral and fooled so many people? Now imagine if an AI news anchor was also used to manipulate and continue to spread false information to millions of people."

AI News

Man looks at a digital avatar of himself made with a hologram

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Fedha looks eerily realistic in broadcasts. The blond anchor was crisp and professional in videos discussing recent news events. 

Kuwait isn't the only country to have an AI-generated news presenter. China's state news agency ran its own virtual newsreader in 2018 wearing a suit. 

If AI news presenters become more prevalent, deep fake videos may become even more sophisticated and widespread, "leading to even greater risks of disinformation that could affect politics, geopolitical relationships, and public opinion with the potential to harm individuals and society," said Curtis who is now the vice president of global corporate communications at the virtual meeting company Jugo

In an age of shrinking news budgets, AI news presenters who don't demand raises might have advantages, at least from a salary perspective. 

"For many TV operations, much of their technology costs have long since been spent and depreciated," Iliya Rybchin, a partner at Elixirr Consulting, said via email. "Talent costs are one of the main items on the P&L (especially for local news). Removing talent and replacing it with AI will improve the bottom line of businesses that are already struggling to stay viable."

And, said Curtis, AI presenters could allow news to be distributed faster and perhaps with more accuracy. 

Ethical considerations and safeguards will need to be implemented to prevent bias, inaccuracies, and manipulation.

"You can train AI to detect bias and vet information to provide context," Curtis added. "AI can even be programmed to present in a 'neutral' tone."

A news bulletin is not journalism anyway, whether a human reads it or a machine, Subramaniam Vincent, the director of the journalism and media ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said in an email. He said that what matters is who wrote the bulletin and how the news was gathered, verified, and framed. 

"Perhaps Kuwaiti viewers already treat this as a top-down exploration decision at the technology level, foisted on them by the media elite with the nod of the ruling administration," he added. "Or, they will take it as a novelty to gaze at. If the novelty fades out in a few weeks or months, it's back to square one."

The Future of AI News

There's a rush in Hollywood to use AI to augment human actors. Will news announcers eventually all be replaced by AI?

Fears of AI ousting human workers are widespread. A recent Goldman Sachs report said AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs worldwide.

As AI technology improves, AI will make newsrooms and the media, in general, more efficient and accurate, Curtis said. However, AI-generated news and AI news presenters must be labeled clearly for audiences. 

"Ethical considerations and safeguards will need to be implemented to prevent bias, inaccuracies, and manipulation," Curtis added. "Vigilant oversight and transparency are key to trust in this technology going forward."

Rybchin predicted that AI-driven talent would soon do play-by-play sports broadcasts. However, he said, the AI "people" will disappear over the long term and be replaced with just audio content. 

"The growth of podcasts has shown that consumers can ingest tremendous amounts of content just through voice," he added. "I suspect many talking heads will be replaced with charts, data, and other visuals with just a voice track running in the background. The need to look people in the eye when exchanging information has deteriorated over time."

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