Personalized newscasts culled from the web and presented by digital avatars; baseball stories written by computers using raw data: Students and professors at Northwestern University are working to make this futuristic vision of news a reality, AFP reports. Such an internet-based customized newscast has been cooking in the Intelligent Information Lab (InfoLab) at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science in Illinois for more than three years. The project, known as "News at Seven," uses a software program to create a "virtual news show" presented by animated anchors who speak–somewhat robotically–using text-to-speech technology. The program crawls news stories and blogs on the web for information about a particular topic, matches it up with pictures and video, and generates a script. Viewers can choose from a selection of avatars and customize a newscast to their particular interests. InfoLab director Kristian Hammond, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern, said the voices used by the digital avatars were the biggest "limiting factor" to the project for the moment. "The information-gathering is more compelling than the presentation," he said, adding that the project has evoked interest from a number of media organizations…

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