Russia’s robot news anchor gives human TV presenters hope

Robots are coming to take our jobs, that’s pretty much certain, but precisely which jobs they’ll grab continues to be the topic of much debate.

Human news anchors, for example, must be feeling growing confusion about whether or not they’ll be needed in a few years’ time. When they set eyes on Japan’s attempt at a robotic news presenter in 2014, for example, they must have felt rather reassured about their position, so stilted and awkward was their mechanical counterpart.

But the more recent unveiling of an impressive A.I.-enabled virtual newsreader in China will likely have sent shivers down the spine of many an anchor who’d been hoping for a long and illustrious career in the business.

Further bafflement will have arisen inside the news-reading community this week after Russian state news channel Russia-24 unveiled yet another effort at automating news shows. It’s fair to say that the robot, developed by tech firm Promobot in the city of Perm about 700 miles east of Moscow, still needs some work — OK, a lot of work — a fact that will give renewed hope to presenters keen to stay in front of the camera for a while yet.

According to the BBC, the robot, Alex, is modeled on the face of Promobot’s co-founder, Alexei Yuzhakov. While the current version is only able to move parts of its face, engineers are said to be working on a version featuring moving limbs, too, giving it the chance to saunter about the studio during a news show.

Alex cost more than 1 million Russian roubles (about $15,600) to develop, and Promobot says it’s taken 12 orders for the android. However, it’s not entirely clear who purchased them and for what purpose.

The BBC said that Alex has so far read out a variety of news stories for Russia-24, among them items about agriculture, a nuclear technology forum, and micro-finance. Reading a piece about technology innovations at an exhibition taking place in Moscow, Alex modestly declared that “the main hero was me.”

While some on social media have accused Alex of peddling political propaganda in his news reports, others simply made fun of the robot’s wooden delivery and odd appearance.

But at least one person managed to conjure up a kind comment, describing Alex as a “very nice robot.”

A recent report by the World Economic Forum suggested robots could take as many as 75 million jobs from humans by 2025, though it concluded that many more new positions — for living and breathing folks — will also be created in that time.

Whether Alex’s ropey performance means he’ll be forced to reverse the trend toward robot replacements by giving way to a human news anchor remains to be seen.

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