Quartz's Amazon Echo 'Flash Briefing' Hosted By Robots

Quartz’s daily news updates on the voice-controlled speaker Amazon Echo, called "Flash Briefings," will now be hosted by two robots.

The bots, called Brian and Kendra will now take over for Amazon’s voice-controlled virtual assistant Alexa, and read the "Flash Briefing."

Quartz’s "Flash Briefing" was based on the publisher’s "Daily Brief" email, a roundup of the global economy. Now, the "Briefing" will come from the first five stories on its mobile app, “which is more conversational,” John Keefe, Quartz Bot Studio developer and product manager, told Publishers Daily.

Keefe manages all innovative projects across platforms, including artificial intelligence and bot building. The Bot Studio was formed late last year.



In a post, Keefe explained how Brian and Kendra host Quartz’s Flash Briefing: “Three times a day, or when news breaks, the written words from five stories are sent to a text-to-speech service called Polly, another Amazon product. Brian and Kendra are two of many voices available on the Polly service. In mere moments, we get back an .mp3 audio file for each story, with the written words converted into synthesized speech. That audio becomes the newscast.”

Quartz decided to let go of Alexa because “we’ve found it can be hard to listen to Alexa reading several paragraphs of any text. Alternating voices and using more conversational writing seems to work better,” Keefe wrote.

Brian has a male British accent, while Kendra has the voice of an American woman.

“We liked the aural separation of the two different voices,” Keefe said. “When you’re listening to a public radio newscast, for example, a solo newscaster uses intonation to indicate that they have moved on to a new story. Here, we’re using the sound of two different robot-voices...to make that separation clear.”

Brian reads the 1st, 3rd and 5th story from Quartz’s mobile app, as well as the sponsor message, and Kendra reads the 2nd and 4th story.

Keefe noted in his post: “We really like the quality of the British man’s voice. There’s been a lot of conversation here about whether it’s because he’s British. Do we, as speakers of US English, have more tolerance for robots speaking in an accent?"

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, getting Brian and Kendra up to speed. For example, “Boeing 747” was narrated as “Boeing seven hundred and forty seven.” And Brian kept calling Donald Trump “Donald Drumb.”

Quartz first launched the "Daily Brief" integration into the Alexa platform in November 2016 to expand the publisher's reach using new applications to deliver news.

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