02 May 2023
A Swiss radio station recently carried out a social experiment on air, testing robot-created content and voicing.
The 13-hour experiment took place on the French-language station Couleur 3. During the period, listeners heard the cloned voices of five human presenters. The station's programming also included music created by artificial intelligence (AI) methods.
The programming informed listeners about the experiment every 20 minutes.
"AI is taking your favorite radio by storm," a voice said. "Our clones and AI are here to unsettle, surprise and shake you. And for that matter, this text was also written by a robot."
Recent AI developments have led to the creation of a series of tools that permit robots to lead different human activities. These tools belong to a group of systems known as "generative AI." The tools use machine learning methods to train AI systems on huge amounts of data to produce human-quality results.
One of the most highly publicized generative AI tools is called ChatGPT. It received wide attention by demonstrating the ability to quickly produce written answers to questions at a level and quality similar to humans.
The development of generative AI systems has led to some criticism of the technology. Critics have warned that such systems, if used incorrectly, could cause economic, cultural and social harms.
The Swiss station's chief, Antoine Multone, told The Associated Press that Couleur 3 was able to carry out the experiment because it is already known for doing "provocative" things.
Multone defended the project as a lesson on how to live with AI. "I think if we become ostriches ... we put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Mon Dieu, there's a new technology! We're all going to die!' then yeah, we're going to die because it (AI) is coming, whether we like it or not," Multone said by phone. "We want to master the technology so we can then put limits on it."
Station officials said it took three months to train the AI to understand the needs of the station and learn the special requirements of its programming.
Music that aired during the experiment was completely or mostly created by AI methods. Multone claimed that was a world's first for a radio station.
The experiment included human-sounding robot voices providing false short news stories meant to be too futuristic to be believed. These included a story about a temporary ban on spaceship flights over Geneva because of noise complaints. Another informed about the opening of the first underwater restaurant in Lake Zurich, while another told about visitors from outer space coming to Switzerland.
Multone admitted there was a lot of discussion among employees about whether to go through with the experiment. He said he would have been willing to stop the project if his team was not fully supportive.
The station said in a statement it received hundreds of messages on the day of the experiment, with some supporting and others opposing. One person complained of unfunny jokes. Another listener admitted to not recognizing the programming as an experiment. One critic called the project a waste of time for a station that gets public financing.
Multone said about 90 percent of listener reactions suggested the experiment was a good idea. But many said they found the human element missing. Many listeners noted, "You can sense these are robots, and there are fewer surprises, less personality.'"
Multone said some listeners were even more forceful, urging station officials to "‘give us back our humans!'"
I'm Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
clone – v. to make an exact copy of a person, animal or plant
artificial intelligence – n. the development of computer systems that have the ability to perform work that normally requires human intelligence
provocative – adj. causing discussion, thought, argument, etc.
complaint – n. a statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something
personality – n. a set of emotional qualities that makes a person different from other people