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BBC is launching an interactive radio show for Echo

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The future of entertainment is here. The BBC, in collaboration with Rosina Sound, is working on an interactive radio play for artificial intelligence-enabled home chatbots like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home.

The production will be the first of its kind — the first to use this kind of technology and to function in this way. It plans to release this futuristic, high-tech play by the end of the year.


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The play

The story, called the Inspection Chamber, will work similarly to choose-your-own-adventure books and games, in which users can influence the direction of the story by the choices they make.

The creators of the Inspection Chamber, though, are seeking to take that idea a bit further and make listeners really feel like they’re in the story.

The story’s narrator will ask you, the listener, questions throughout the story. Your answers to those questions will change the outcome of the narrative.

The questions are designed so the listener doesn’t have to step out of the story to consider their decision, but instead feels like they’re a character in the story. It’s meant to feel like you’re interacting with the other characters in the play.

The creators of the play said they took inspiration from games like The Stanley Parable and Papa Sangre, and authors such as Franz Kafka and Douglas Adams. The story became, in the creators’ own words, “a comedy science-fiction audio drama.”

The technology

The sci-fi elements fit well with the medium through which the story will be presented. The show’s creators say they’ve built a “story engine” that lets the story work on a variety of different voice devices.

First, the Inspection Chamber will come out on Amazon Echo and Google Home, but the BBC is looking into other devices, like Apple’s HomePod and Microsoft & Harman Kardon’s Invoke speaker, as well.

The project comes out of a wider BBC initiative called Talking With Machines that is exploring spoken interfaces. It’s looking at ways to share content through these technologies and improve interactive audio interfaces. It also aims to create a platform for these interfaces that works across devices, instead of relying on one particular device.

Merging art and technology

In some ways, the plot of the Inspection Chamber had to conform to the limitations of the technology used to share it. For example, Amazon’s Alexa requires users to speak every 90 seconds, and these devices only understand a limited number of phrases. The story’s writers had to come up with a way to incorporate these phrases and time requirements into the story, without making it feel forced.

The use of this technology to tell a story may be experimental now, but as the technology improves, this type of content will likely become easier to create with fewer limitations on creativity. This presents some interesting ideas about the future of creative fields and technology. Rather than shy away from tech in favor of the traditional, the BBC is going full force into it.

Physical books and theater productions may never go completely out of style due to their many virtues, but using new technologies creates new possibilities with a plot, user experience, and more.

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer interested in AI, chatbots, and tech news. She writes for VentureBeat, MakeUseOf, The Week, and TechnoBuffalo.

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