Amazon Echo Smart Home Alexa Voice Service in a living room on October 25, 2018 in Barcelona

Government information made accessible via smart speakers

Image credit: Jdjuancimail | Dreamstime.com

Voice-activated smart speakers and virtual assistants such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home are being trialled as ways to provide information about public services in the UK such as minimum wage and retirement age.

Over the past six months, a small team of experts from the Government Digital Service have been working on a trial project to allow people to access information from gov.uk “without having to touch a computer keyboard.”

The trial will enable access to 12,000-plus pieces of government information via the website, allowing for smart speaker users to ask questions such as “when is the next bank holiday?” or “how do I apply for a new passport?”.

“This is all about making life easier for people who need to access information about government services,” said Oliver Dowden, the minister overseeing its implementation. “And with millions now using smart speakers, I want the government to keep up and work smarter too.”

The government added that extra services, such as renewing car tax or finding out details about how to get married, could also soon be available via voice commands as the project moves forward.

“We want to simplify people’s interactions with the government, making information clear and accessible to everyone,” said Jennifer Allum, the head of gov.uk.

“These results are promising because voice services can be a really convenient way to get information, particularly for people who find computers and phones hard to use.”

The popularity of smart speakers, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, has grown exponentially since they were first introduced in the UK back in 2016.

According to research found in 2018, one in 10 people have one or more smart speakers in their home, with Amazon’s range of Echo smart devices leading in the smart speaker market.

The trial taking place has also allowed the government to resurface advice and instructions that may have otherwise been buried online.

Concerns about privacy have been raised surrounding Amazon Echo’s Alexa after an investigation by Bloomberg found that thousands of Amazon employees have been listening to recordings captured by customers’ smart speakers.

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