GOV.UK and Alexa: Government keen to hear the voice of the people

The GOV.UK team have been working hard at bringing their information available online to a smartspeaker near you - another solid step towards bringing public services into the age of ambient computing.

The steady surge of smartspeakers

The Amazon Echo Dot Smartspeaker ownership is growing rapidly. Already up 3% in 2018 to date, ownership of voice-activated speakers now stands at 8% of the adult UK population - with voice searches more generally also rising rapidly. In 2016, 1 in every 5 Google searches on Android were voice searches, with market analyst ComScore predicting that half of all search queries will be spoken by 2020. Voice as an interface to the internet is clearly here to stay.

Not just a pretty voice

As many of you may already know, there is a lot more that you can do with a smartspeaker than just listen to music, radio, the news and the weather. If you don't, then my daily podcast on all things Alexa is an excellent place to start. Click that link to subscribe in iTunes, search for 'Dot to Dot' in your podcatching app of choice, or simply ask your favourite smartspeaker to play that podcast and it'll start with the latest episode.

Google Home deviceNow wouldn't it be great if Alexa or your Google Home knew as much about government services as it did about celebrities or stock prices? Wouldn't it be great if you could ask your smartspeaker how long it takes to get a new passport, how much it would cost to take your driving test or when your child benefit would be paid?

Well, thanks to the GOV.UK team, you can ask Google Assistant those very questions as well as others along similar public-service lines - on your Google Home smartspeaker, on your Android phone or on an iPhone using the Google Search app. This is as a result of their implementing new 'search schemas'; a method recommended by Google to surface succinct responses from a website in a form ideal for being quickly read on-screen or spoken by a smartspeaker. Similar approaches exist for Siri, Alexa and Cortana (Microsoft's virtual assistant) and the team hope to add such capabilities to these platforms shortly.

Read all about it

You can read all about their advances, along with their future ambitions for ambient computing in the delivery of public sector services, in a recent post published on their website; 'Hey GOV.UK, what are you doing about voice?'. I was fortunate enough to contribute to their on-going research in this area, and they were kind enough to include a link in this post to my article all about how smartspeakers are perfect for people with disabilities; 'Alexa vs Google Home vs Cortana: The battle to reach every user intensifies'.

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