Rough Cut: Hadar Levy-Landesberg and Xuenan Cao “Anchoring Voices:The News Anchor’s Voice in China from Television to AI”

Event time: 
Thursday, October 5, 2023 - 5:30pm
Humanities Quadrangle: 134 See map
320 York
New Haven
Event description: 

In 2018, the Chinese state news agency “Xinhua” unveiled the world’s first AI-generated news anchor, modeled after the real newscaster Zhang Zhao, simulating his voice, lip movement, and facial expressions. According to Xinhua, its AI anchor learns from live broadcasting videos and “can read texts as naturally as a professional news anchor”. At first blush, this development seems to meddle with fundamental “truths” in Western, liberal contexts, intervening in the complex affinities between human voices, identities, and bodies. Considering journalistic practices, AI anchors also appear to problematize the links between voice and normative professional values such as “authenticity” and “trust”, reaffirming the conventional narrative depicting China’s state-run mass media as a sanitized instrument for propaganda. This talk, however, takes a different stance, responding to recent calls within media and communication studies to ‘de-westernize’ the field. Combining ongoing discussions within television studies, journalism studies, sound studies, and critical data studies, it capitalizes on the significance ascribed to news anchoring in China to consider this central journalistic practice across political, cultural, and economic contexts. Delving into Chinese Broadcasting Science, the first pedagogical standards for broadcasters and TV anchors across mainland China, published in 1993, this talk demonstrates how the perception of the anchor’s voice as something that can be measured, manipulated, and programmed has predated the AI industry. Examining guidelines, diagrams, and figures used to instruct candidates on how to train their physiological voicing “engine”, it traces the continuities between this model of television anchoring to AI-generated news anchors.

Hadar Levy-Landesberg is Post-Doctoral Research Affiliate in the Film and Media Studies Program (FMS) at Yale University. Her current research centers on the intersections between voice and AI-powered technologies, thinking historically about the status of voice as a unique identifier. Her research has been featured in Theory, Culture & Society, New Media & Society, International Journal of Communication (IJOC), Sound Studies, and Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (JCMC).

Xuenan Cao is Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies in the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her research on media studies, digital STS, youth cultures, and Chinese literature has been published in Big Data & Society (2023), Theory, Culture & Society (2021), Extrapolation (2019), Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture (2016), amongst others. Her current project on AI extrapolations is supported by the Hong Kong Research Council Grant and CUHK faculty grant.