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Software generates video news bulletins

NewScientist.com news service | Tom Simonite

Software that automatically generates timely video news bulletins, presented by computer-animated characters, could revolutionise current affairs broadcasting, researchers say.

The system, called News at Seven, can produce reports tailored to a person's particular interests, from world affairs to celebrity gossip.

For example, one video shows a bulletin about attempts to corroborate North Korea's controversial nuclear test while another shows a more opinionated celebrity-focused report (both wmv files).

"The start point for News at Seven is a set of preferences for what the report should be about," explains Kristian Hammond at Northwestern University, Illinois, US, who developed the system with graduate students Nathan Nichols and Sara Owsley.

Using keywords entered by the user, the program selects news site RSS feeds and specific stories to focus on. "The stories are edited for length, and changed to make them more colloquial and suited to speech," says Hammond.

Active voice

For example, information contained within brackets is turned into something that can be read aloud. Where possible, sentences are also changed from the passive to the active voice. "An offer was made by George Bush..." would become "George Bush made an offer..."

The next step is to extract further key terms from these reports and use these to search for supplementary images and videos on sites like YouTube and Google Video. Technorati and Google Blog Search are also used find opinionated blog posts related to the topic of the broadcast. "The software looks for words and phrases indicative of emotional impact," Hammond explains.

Finally, the software generates a script from the collated material. Text-to-speech software then lets computer animated characters - taken from the shoot-em-up computer game Half Life - take on the role of news anchors, with the pictures and videos shown on a screen behind them.

Other characters are used, as interviewees, presenting material taken from blogs posts. This is treated slightly differently - emphasis is added to these characters' synthesised speech to get a more personal message across.

Personalised news

By the end of the year, Hammond and colleagues plan to use the system to produce a daily news round-up featuring three or so stories. "We are also hoping to be able to offer personalised bulletins by then too," he says.

Paul Clough, who works on automated information retrieval at Sheffield University, UK, says News at Seven is an ambitious combination, or "mash-up", of information from different resources.

Clough points out that this can provide more interesting ways of accessing original information. Although he does not believe News at Seven will steal viewers from regular TV networks just yet, he says the "bulletins look very good and could even appeal to people that don't use the web".

He adds that computer generated news bulletins be a feature of next generation television.

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