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Ananova was the world's first computer-generated virtual newscaster. She was created by a division of the United Kingdom (UK) Press Association and programmed to read news to web users. The character delivered her first online newscast on 19 April 2000. Although the character read news only on the Internet until 2004, news was provided under the Ananova name at Ananova.com until 2010, when the site was discontinued.
The character was a technological triumph. She holds a Guinness World Record for being the world’s first virtual newscaster. The character was what the artificial intelligence industry calls an intelligent agent, meaning that she was able to observe her environment and act accordingly.
The technology used to create her was state of the art at the time. The most technically challenging feature of the character was her ability to deliver news using a life-like voice and tone. This was achieved using a text-to-speech synthesis software called Realspeak created by Lernout and Hauspie Speech Products, a Belgian speech recognition technology company. This technology, coupled with automatic lip synching, made the newscaster sound like a real person.
Ananova's first words spoken in a newscast were, "Hello world. Here is the news. And this time it's personal." She was created to be fully interactive. Web site users could input preferences on the web page. The character would then read newscasts tailored to those preferences. She could also deliver sports scores and weather or read a two-minute summary of the news of the day.
The character's creators wanted to make her as likable and trustworthy as possible. She spoke 16 different languages in a mid-Atlantic accent. Research showed that this accent was least distracting to listeners. The character also had green hair and large eyes and mouth to make her easily recognizable to viewers. Her creators described her as being 28 years old, pleasant, and intelligent.
The name and virtual character were bought from the UK Press Association in 2000 by Orange SA, named the fifth largest telecommunications company in the world in 2009. Orange SA pulled the Ananova character offline in 2004, saying she needed to be upgraded to keep up with modern technology and would be back soon. She never returned.
Ananova.com continued to deliver the quirky news stories it was known for until 2009. As of April 2010, even the Ananova name was discontinued. Visitors to the Ananova.com website are now automatically redirected to the Orange News site.
I took time off of work to witness the launch of "ananova". I was not disappointed at what special features she offered. I was wondering why, when "orange" took over, why drop "ananova" and her features?