In the future, all newscasts will be virtual

Researchers have developed a sort of Google News Alerts/Ananova/Doom mashup autonomously scours the Web and the blogosphere for the day's news stories and presents them via a newscaster avatar

In the television industry, you have to be careful when you take a sabbatical because someone younger and prettier will try to horn in on your territory while you're gone.

The same is apparently true of the Internet as well. While Ananova -- the once much-touted virtual newscaster -- continues her extended rest holiday, the InfoLab at Northwestern University have been busy developing News at Seven, sort of a Google News Alerts/Ananova/Doom mashup. The News at Seven autonomously scours the Web and the blogosphere to pull together the day's news stories and then presents them via a newscaster avatar named Alex Vance. As Vance reports the news, the images behind her -- culled from various sites -- change depending on what she's talking about.

News at Seven is fascinating and a little off-putting. Alex's newscast is delivered via TTS (text-to-speech), so imagine someone talking about Darfur with a voice that's a cross between an old-school Cylon and Number Six from the new Battlestar Galactica. It's also glaringly obvious that the background images and video are triggered by keywords in Alex's script, resulting in distractingly off-kilter timing. (Check out the sample video from the News at Seven page to see what I mean.) However, what's truly scary is how much of a real-world newscaster's job can be computerized with no real loss.

One nice extra: Staying true to her game-engine roots, Alex's other job is zombie killing -- and sometimes her that job spills over into her newscasting gig. You've just gotta love the furtive glances off-camera while she's trying to wrap up the day's newscast.

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