AI news anchors are exactly what you don't need in your fact-based, news-starved life

Channel1 AI
(Image credit: Channel1 AI)

Like many people from boomers to millennials, I grew up watching Walter Cronkite deliver the news and witnessing his childlike joy at a human walking on the moon and profound grief at having to confirm reports that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Cronkite delivered the news but with a human touch. Now, wants me to divorce news from its humanity and accept daily reports from human-like AI.

That's gonna be a hard no.

Look, I can see the appeal of what Channel1.AI is trying to do in early 2024. The startup wants to package real news reports, created from the hard work of flesh-based journalists, and have a legion of autonomous artificial intelligence-generated characters deliver the news reports.

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I shouldn't call them "characters." The ones I saw in Channel1's demo reel look astonishingly human and promise to deliver fact-based news reports. I watched the video a few times to look for tell-tale signs of their inhumanity. There aren't many. There's an adult woman with perfect hair, an older female with a slightly wrinkled neck, a pair of too-buff young men anchors, and some serious-looking AI guy that I think was designed to deliver "real deal" impact on all this AI reporting.

Their voices are probably the worst part. They sound robotic and sometimes the words don't sync up with the AI human video. The effect can be jarring.

I don't have any qualms with the news Channel1 is promising to deliver. It kept repeating the word "facts" and promised to follow "journalistic principles." That's all encouraging, and I began to think this might not be so horrible, until the video also noted that sometimes the newscast would employ AI imagery. It would be clearly labeled, but still. What is AI imagery doing in any newscast? A newscast shows you what is supposed to be the news, not an artist's rendering of it.

To be fair, I have seen artists' renderings on newscasts, but they were usually created by humans and were the kind you get from court reporter artists. AI-generated art has a habit of inventing things. One example Channel 1 showed appears to be an AI-generated image of a Titanic-like ship riding up onto a giant iceberg. We have no visual record of this tragedy, so I don't know what Channel 1 is trying to show me.

Some people don't believe Channel 1 is real. It is. The company's been working for months on its platform, delivery system and, naturally, the technology that will make the AI anchors work, including scripts generated by large language models (LLM).

Leaving all that aside, let's talk about Channel 1's total lack of humanity.

Sure, news anchors are supposed to be impartial newsreaders, telling us the day's events with nary a side-eye or upset hitch in their voices. But the best of them have never been that way. Not Cronkite. Not Dan Rather, who followed him. Not Katie Couric. The anchors on The Today Show are not emotionless robots.

I fear these AI anchors will be programmed to try to infuse some emotion and humanity into news reports. Just as we can spot the slight off-ness of humanoid robots and bad AI imagery, the uncanny valley of Channel 1 anchors' delivery will be inescapable.

Please, leave AI to do the things humans don't want to do, or need to do. For us to understand news and its import, we need a human who can communicate context and impact – and who understands what it means.

Channel 1's plan, instead, is to fake it. Earlier this year, it told The Hollywood Reporter that it would have "liberal and conservative hosts who can deliver the news filtered through a more specific point of view." Great, so instead of delivering impartial news, Channel 1 will reinforce existing opinions and perspectives to satisfy viewers instead of just educating them with the facts. I can't imagine anything more horrifying or worse for the news-watching public.

Walter Cronkite must be rolling in his grave.

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Lance Ulanoff
US Editor in Chief

A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.