Media industry exploring new technologies, including blockchain, 5G and AI

Mr Jacobo Toll-Messia (centre), CEO of blockchain company Hubii AS, discussed the use of blockchain technology in areas like micro-payments and the tracking of digital assets like videos and images for purposes like copyright protection. PHOTO: CGTN PHOTO

CHONGQING - Making small amounts of payments for watching a video or reading an article online - this can soon be done through blockchain technology.

Blockchains have long been linked to cryptocurrencies but the media industry has been exploring ways to harness this technology for its use as well.

Some uses of blockchain in media are emerging, including micro-payments, that will help the industry solve some of its problems, said speakers at a media forum hosted by the China Global Television Network (CGTN) and video news agency CCTV+, both outfits of the state-run broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

Mr Jacobo Toll-Messia, chief executive officer of Hubii AS, a news aggregator turned blockchain company that has been exploring solutions around micro-payments, spoke on the panel on blockchain on Wednesday (Oct 17), the second day of the two-day forum.

Blockchain, he explained, was an infrastructure software for "storing data for all kinds of purposes, on top of which you can implement all kinds of solutions". Records kept on blockchains are immutable, that is, they cannot be changed in any way by anyone.

Mr Toll-Messia told the audience that his company has developed a protocol that solved two problems with blockchain, concerning speed and cost.

He later told The Straits Times that micro-payment using blockchain technology "is going to be implemented very soon, as soon as in the coming year".

Another area in which blockchain can be used is the tracking of media organisations' digital products such as videos and images through their lifetimes, including for the purpose of copyright protection, said Mr Toll-Messia.

This is beginning to be done by Baidu Baike, a Web-based encyclopaedia owned by Chinese search engine Baidu.

Said Ms Yang Minglu, product architect of Baidu Baike: "Last year, 2017, was the turning point. Starting in 2017, every product manager was talking about blockchain."

She said blockchain can solve a lot of design issues for her organisation.

This is because with the technology, information can be shaped such that the copyright of an encyclopaedia entry can be protected and its authenticity maintained.

She said the company has some projects going on that use blockchain as an aid, including one called Baidu Tattoo in which the technology is used to protect the copyright of images the company owns.

"We store the information of the image in blockchain so that from the very beginning, we can initiate protection efforts. Also, we combine blockchain, artifical intelligence (AI) technology and data processing technology in this project so that we can compare the information of the image with information of other images available on the Internet so that in cases of intellectual property rights being infringed by others, we can take legal action," she added.

She noted too that blockchain can be applied to the authentication of content. Right now, she said, the cost is low for disseminating rumours online, as one does not have to take responsibility for doing so.

"But with blockchain, we can make sure the person releasing the content is held accountable, so the cost is increased on this front," she said.

Other new technology that is being explored for use by the media industry is 5G - or the fifth generation of cellular communication - in particular by Japanese broadcaster NHK for disaster reporting.

Noting that Japan is susceptible to natural disasters, Mr Genichi Inabe, the deputy director of global IT innovation in the news department of NHK, said 5G could enable the broadcaster to start disaster reporting faster.

For instance, if its more than 7,000 remote cameras throughout Japan are replaced with 5G-powered high-resolution remote cameras, AI monitoring can be made available.

"If unusual things like landslides or flooding are captured by the high-resolution cameras, AI can detect those incidents and issue an alert," he said, adding that this would allow the broadcaster to act more quickly.

On Tuesday, the forum, which brought together more than 500 participants from 65 countries, also looked at the potential use of AI in the newsroom.

Ms Mei Yan, deputy director of CGTN Digital, was of the view that AI can help news professionals understand users better and that this will, in turn, guide content production.

While some newsrooms are experimenting with AI writing, "in terms of creative journalistic writing, I think it still has a long way to go and I'm sceptical it will reach that stage", she said.

However, an innovation, described by another speaker, to reduce the workload of journalists brought up the question of ethics.

Mr Benny Fu, the international business development manager of iFLYTEK, an IT company known for its speech recognition technology, spoke of how his company collaborated with CCTV on a documentary in which the voice-over was a simulation of a celebrity's voice using artificial intelligence.

In doing so, less time was used to do the same amount of work.

"In applying our technology in the media world, we can reduce the workload of journalists," he said.

However, a member of the audience raised the problem of ethics, such as when a celebrity's voice is used to say something that he or she might not have wanted to say.

In the instance of the CCTV documentary, consent of the celebrity was sought in advance, said Mr Fu.

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