Now, the News


Credit: British Press Association

Meet Ananova, the virtual news anchor on Britain's Press Association (PA) Web site, Click her button there, and she'll "read" you a mix of political and celebrity headlines, complete with commercials. She talks like an American, and is still visually jerky, but at her launch in April she modestly identified herself as "the face of the future."

Ananova's fans think she looks like Posh Spice, and are following her growing number of expressions and her increasing ability to communicate nuance. Her creators claim that the difference between her and human news anchors is that, "She's a computer with a face in front of it, not a face with nothing much behind it." The PA even claims that Ananova "will completely change the way we communicate." But her detractors think she's a step in the wrong direction.

One of the appeals of the Internet is the access it provides to unmediated information. Its users can bypass filtering editors. Although Ananova offers e-mail bulletins on particular subjects (like sports), in the end she doesn't do much you can't do for yourself.

Except one thing: She'll tell you a story, complete with facial drama. Perhaps technologies that can feature character and identity must inevitably do so. "People said they preferred to get their information from a woman," a PA spokesperson told the Associated Press. But, "She's not a babe. She's a sophisticated real-time computer system."