Meet China’s AI robot reporting on the Rio Olympics

Toutiao, China’s largest news aggregator with 530 million registered users, has created a robot to report on the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Toutiao’s artificial intelligence(AI) robot, named Xiaomingbot, writes and updates breaking news on Toutiao’s website and app. It can produce as many 30-40 stories a day; each story is normally about 200 characters long. Its most viewed story attracted as many as 55,000 pageviews.

The name “Xiaoming” is a common name for a Chinese man, similar to calling a robot “John Smith” in English.

Xiaomingbot
Report by Xiaomingbot (Photo from toutiao.com)

Toutiao’s lab developed the AI robot and paired up with Peking University’s computer science research center to co-launch the writing software for the robot. It takes information from databases on events, learns from natural language and produces short news.

The idea of using robots to write stories isn’t exactly new in China. Tech behemoth Tencent started to use a robot to write financial news in 2015. Compared to the technology used in Tencent’s robot last year, Xiaomingbot has evolved, with three prominent features:

1.Speed: Within two seconds after the data base updates, Xiaomingbot can accomplish the writing and publishing of a story.

2.A Natural feel to its writing: It reports in a natural way, just like a person and with emotions, taking into consideration athletes’ rankings and so on, instead of merely outlining the outcome mechanically.

3.Photo posting: Other than writing news, Xiaomingbot can also autonomously select a photo according to the news content, and then post it.

“Xiaomingbot is not designed to replace reporters. It is used to assist them,” said Dr. Li Lei, the head of Toutiao’s lab.

Dr. Li noted that with hundreds of events going on at the same time it’s unrealistic for reporters to cover every event, but robots can cover every single event, no matter if it is hot or not. He also mentioned that data shows coverage of less popular games attracts considerable readers, and that bots can complement human reporters.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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Wang Hongzhi

Wang is a contributor at ATA. She is passionate about literature, photography and technology. She graduated from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics.

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