Would you watch the news online or via a mobile app if it were presented by something that looks human, but is in fact an artificially intelligent virtual human?
Today’s episode features Leon Hawthorne. Leon is a media executive, journalist and academic; a former CEO of two satellite TV channels, three cable stations, a TV production company and a dozen web channels. He created web TV channels for Boot’s, Borders and Waterstones, and advised the CEOs of Hearst Magazines, the Independent and London Evening Standard on digital content strategies.
In his journalistic career, he was a World News Anchor for both CNN International and CNBC Europe. For BBC News, he was a member of the parliamentary lobby, attending daily briefings at 10 Downing Street, reporting politics and producing current affairs documentaries for BBC One and BBC Radio 4. Leon is presently on an academic sabbatical, researching for a PhD at City, University of London, while lecturing in Media and Corporate Communication.
In our conversation, we discussed his PhD Research: ‘Talking Heads: The use of virtual human presenters in the delivery of personalised news content’. The experiment itself uses AI to detect how participants really feel about the images they see, instead of relying wholly on answers participants give on a questionnaire. After being granted permission, the cloud-based software accesses the participant’s webcam to analyse their microexpressions, as they watch the videos. Microexpressions are small, rapid movements of the facial muscles that psychologists believe betray subconscious emotional reactions.
The technology for the experiment was developed by Affectiva Inc., the pioneer of Emotion AI. The research is interested particularly in seeing how opinions vary, depending on the age and sex of participants, and also on how much they use smartphones and other new technologies. Anyone aged over 18, who has access to a computer with a webcam, can take part in the 10-minute online experiment.