By Richard Ashdown, Global Growth Director


A recent report from YouTube, ‘The Dawn of the Connected Home’,1 made me rethink the wider implications of the device known as Alexa. It probably goes without saying that we are already seeing (or hearing) clients investigate the role voice activation might play in supporting patients.2 Indeed, we have proto-typed a prescription product ‘skill’ for Alexa, which sat on a digital health platform.

The rise of voice-enabled systems may soon begin to directly impact on how we think content should be presented and best served. The artificial intelligence (AI) in the system is based on natural language processing3 and, at the simplest level, what we are starting to see – or in this instance, hear – is less of the perfectly formed grammatical sentence and more of a fluid humanized voice picking up the relationship between the question being asked and the answer delivered. It is no longer a meta-tagged search system provoking a response on key words, so as professional content creators, we need to think about how we teach the algorithm to understand and relate the content to the question. Perhaps more important than anything else, there is a degree of evidence that shows the effectiveness of chatbots in certain therapeutic areas4 – or possibly how the trust between humans and devices is built. Alexa, I’d contend, is simply the next step in supersized ‘chatbottery’.

Without the hyperbole of movies like ‘Ex Machina’ or ‘Her’5 (I’m more a ‘Dark Star’6 fan myself), perhaps we need to start thinking more clearly of content relationships that are designed to work in an autopoetic construct.7

There is also another point to this. Alexa is part of the Amazon foray into health.8 Other than scaring the corporate behemoths that have an inherent interest in the current institutionalized structure, this in itself isn’t yet as disruptive as one might think; though when it fully kicks in, it certainly will be. My own curiosity is whether the cycle of disruption further down the food chain of services will outstrip the speed and control of Amazon, as it appears to be doing in the music industry. Bear with me on this, as I will post another piece applying this analogy to medical publishing.9 And certainly, as is evidenced by Merck KGaA and Alibaba,10 there’s more than one game in town when it comes to reshaping the supply chain.


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