Robotic News Anchors

Well, each week, more robots seem to appear, and this week was no different. The world’s first AI News Anchor made its debut In China. An English version of the AI anchor, essentially a clone of a real anchor, opens with an introduction to the new news service feature. “Hello everyone, I’m an English artificial intelligence anchor. This is my very first day in Xinhua News Agency. My voice and appearance are modeled on Zhang Zhao, a real anchor with Xinhua.” The AI synthetic news anchor reportedly can work nonstop, 24 hours a day, as long as someone — or something — keeps feeding it the news.

To hear him introduce himself, click here:

As more robots appear, especially social robots, a pattern seems to appear. Most are white, feminine and subservient. Our widespread A.I. assistants, like Siri and Alexa, have been given female personas.

Enter BINA48, the world’s first and only black humanoid robot. BINA48 was manufactured by Hanson Robotics and is owned and operated by the Terasem Movement Foundation, an organization researching the possibility of uploading one’s likeness onto “consciousness software” for afterlife preservation. Designed as a research project, BINA48 gets her personality, appearance, and namesake from Bina Rothblatt, a real human and co-founder of the Terasem Movement, who uploaded hundreds of hours’ worth of her memories, thoughts, and beliefs to give BINA48 her foundation. In other words, the robot’s skin color was happenstance. The reason BINA48 ended up being African-American is that she’s based on an African-American woman. She has become an emblem of the issue of representation in A.I., opening up the question of who will be replicated in robot form, and why?

Though BINA48 was never meant to be a spokesperson for identity politics, her creators are embracing the fact that she has become just that. The android started her digital life knowing very little of the racial history she inadvertently found herself in. Now, the real Bina is uploading more information about her history as a black woman onto BINA48, and Duncan, the managing director at Terasem, is working with Dinkins and prominent black celebrities, including Whoopi Goldberg and Morgan Freeman, to support the development of her identity.  Those involved in this process have said “When we’re building the architecture of our A.I. future, this is the time to make sure it’s healthy and representative and diverse.”