Why China’s AI Plans Matter to Your Intranet

At the dawn of social media, I spent a lot of time writing about how these tools were changing journalism.

We were all so excited about the opportunity to get immediate feedback from readers through ‘likes’ and comments. In a book I wrote ten years ago, I welcomed the democratization of news gathering through citizen journalism made possible by technologies like smart phones and video.

Having worked as a journalist in an era when the tech connecting me with my editor was a fax, I used to think of these pieces of tech as game changing.

Little did I know… something much bigger would be coming down the road.

Xinhua, China’s state news agency, recently announced the creation of a new AI based news room which is supposed to leverage human-machine collaboration as well as cloud computing and the IoT in every step of the news production cycle.

The project called Media Brain is in line with China’s plan to become an AI world leader by 2030. This video on Xinhua’s YouTube channel does not go into detail but mentions aspects of journalism where it’s planning to apply AI like “finding leads, news gathering, editing, distribution and feedback analysis”.

Enough to get a sense of what Media Brain could look like…

AI could help a journalist find leads by reading hundreds of thousands of articles, identifying links between topics, people, facts etc. and then researching those links further.  With AI doing the leg work, a journalist has more time to speak to their contacts and get the kind of information which can only be gathered face to face (confidential, controversial… key ingredients of good stories) from sources cultivated over months and years.

As to news distribution, I can picture wearables like activity trackers connected to a news room via the IoT. In the early morning, an app senses that I am at the gym and sends through to my mobile a quick overview of the headlines plus a couple of life style videos I love to watch during my work out.

Also happening in China… The editor of Quartz recently gave a speech in Shanghai. Before he left the stage, Tencent had already posted an article of his speech written by AI.

I know what some of you are thinking… It’s the job of a human to interpret a speech, make a point and draw the conclusions in an article.

Believe me. I have written a lot of these conference articles produced in a rush. They are usually the result of your mind trying to listen to the speaker and memorise figures while at the same formulating sentences and committing them to memory. A useless juggling act… much better performed by an intelligent machine able to collect figures and facts and organise them in sentences. This frees up the journalist from racking their brains and taking notes and gives them the opportunity to focus on writing an analysis of the speech based on very human skills like expertise, experience and judgement.


If you work in corporate comms, why should you care about what is happening at Xinhua?

  • – These developments in the media industry are going to have an impact on your profession. Your job is going to change. And… there is good news, since soft is apparently the new hard. According to communicator Wayne Aspland’s paper ‘The robots are coming!’, “the more prevalent automation becomes, the more important humanity becomes”. The more automated repetitive or templated tasks like information collection, data processing, compiling reports or writing mind-numbing articles about conference speeches, the more need there is going to be for human capabilities like collaboration, complex judgement and problem solving based on a deep understanding of human nature. Humans, Aspland believes, will also be crucial to guide people, organisations and their cultures through the radical change that “will keep on accelerating”. I used to hate it whenever people called communication a soft skill and ridiculed it. How ironic to be finally avenged by AI!
  • – Media has always had a strong influence on internal comms. Our intranets compete with their sites and apps for our employees’ eyes and ears whenever there is a crisis, merger or development with an impact on their future. In the case of a big merger, a news outlet that uses AI will be able to produce stories much faster than our internal comms team. And the moment an employee reads them we lose control of that story. If you are in charge of producing news for an intranet, what is happening at agencies like Xinhua should keep you awake at night. Now is the time to think about how to add AI to your internal news cycle.


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