AI is so new and exciting, just ask Ananova

Posted by Jon Peddie on July 26th 2017 | Discuss

She’s 17 this month

We visited the emerald-eyed, green-haired virtual newscaster, Ananova, in Leeds England, in July 2001, for her first birthday. I was reminded of her due to all the recent news about AI and how reporters will no longer be needed. For example, the Bezos Post introduced an AI-powered story generating program call Heliograf , from a project they started back in 2013. The Post’s goal with the project is to grow its audience in an age of declining news (fake or otherwise) readers. However, instead of targeting a big audience with a small number of labor-The emerald-eyed, greenhaired virtual newscaster, Ananovaintensive human-written stories, Heliograf can target many small audiences with a huge number of automated stories about niche or local topics. The Heliograf software identifies the relevant data, matches it with the corresponding phrases in the template, merges them, and then publishes different versions across different plat-forms. Cool, but not exactly novel. 

Ananova was the World's first virtual newscaster, created by Press Association in Le eds. She came to life in April 2000. She attracted a million unique users in 24 hours and generated 10 million-page impressions in her first month. Those were unheard of numbers at the time. Based on that, Orange acquired Ananova Ltd. In 2000 for $142.5 million (£95m).

The character of Ananova was given a distinctive look and personality based on celebrities such as Victoria Beck-ham, Kylie Minogue, and Carol Vor-derman, and she appeared as a white female with a thin, toned body, sported short green hair, and was always shown in make-up. She got lots of marriage offers, and requests for dates.

Her creators described her as a 28-year-old "girl about town" who stands at 173 cm (5.7 ft) tall and loves the band Oasis and the TV show The Simpsons. Ananova's creators stated the original incarnation of the charac-ter was a prototype, and they intended for users to customize Ananova as one might with a game character. There were a lot of detailed fictions regard-ing the character's personality. And when we visited, there was an ongoing discussion about where did she live—in the server, in the cloud (they didn’t call it that then) or on the client’s machine, or was she like god and everywhere at once. One popular choice was Antarctica.

Ananova went into hiding after 2004, even though the Ananova web-site was still operational and provid-ing written news items until 2009. In April 2010 Orange decided to scrap the name Ananova. Users entering the site are now redirected to a Web Hosting Service Directory (which may be in India).

It was a truly innovative concept and it’s hard to understand why it wasn’t carried forward. There could have even been Ananova Pokémon today—maybe there is. Maybe we can make her a cult hero like Elvis—Anan-ovo spotting— swear I saw her at St. Pancras station . . .

You can see her here in an old You- Tube video, and a proposed 2008 at-tempt of a similar AI newscaster here a prototype video created by Blur Studio and Viewpoint for a proposed produc-tion system that could deliver a story with a 4-hour turnaround. That was developed in 2002. The story was brought to you by brought to you by brought to you by . . . 

Other newsbots

  • BuzzBot - Originally designed to crowdsource reporting from the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, BuzzFeed’s software collects information from on the ground sources at news events. BuzzBot has since been made opensource, heralding a wave of botaided reporting tools.
  • News Tracer - Reuters has developed an algorithmic prediction tool that they say helps journalists gauge the integrity of a tweet. The tech scores emerging stories on the basis of “credibility” and “newsworthiness” by evaluating who’s tweeting about it, how it’s spreading across the network, and if nearby users have taken to Twitter to confirm or deny breaking developments.
  • Wibbitz - USA Today has used this AI-driven production software to create short videos. It can condense news articles into a script, string together a selection of images or video footage, and even add narration with a synthesized newscaster 

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