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‘Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?’ How an Amazon Echo can now read you the latest cancer news

by Amelia Hammond | Analysis

23 October 2017

1 comment 1 comment

Amazon Echo
An Amazon Echo

We’ve been blogging regularly about the latest cancer news for 10 years now. And in that time, as we’ve shared information on clinical trials, debunked cancer myths and offered evidence-based health information, a lot has changed in how people consume news.

Most of us now carry a powerful minicomputer in our pockets, people are buying fewer newspapers, and social media is helping us reach new audiences.

But even more recently, a new trend has emerged for accessing news by talking to devices that actually talk back.

That’s why, as part of ongoing work we do to monitor new technology, we’ve made the headlines from our Science blog available for the first time via an app for devices that use Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant.

So, if you have an Alexa-compatible device, you can start using the Cancer Research UK Science blog flash briefing skill now by following this link and enabling it.

Here’s why we’re investigating voice tech.

What is voice technology?

Voice technology, such as Amazon’s Alexa, offers a potential new way for our supporters and the general public to access the news and information we produce.

Amazon Alexa is just one example of voice technology that’s available, and it can be accessed on voice command devices such as the Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot. Soon there will be 33 million voice compatible devices in households worldwide. And experts who track technology trends believe this could change the way people access news.

These devices are essentially voice controlled speakers. And the Alexa technology allows them to act as a personal assistant.

For example, you could ask: ‘Alexa, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?’ Or you can add extra features to your device known as ‘skills’, which can help you get specific assistance, for example allowing you to say: ‘Alexa, give me a 7 minute workout’.

Amazon Alexa also has a feature built in called a flash briefing. This will read you the headline news from your chosen news sources, and there’s plenty to choose from with around 400 flash briefing skills available in the Amazon app store. All you have to do is set your sources in the Alexa app and ask: ‘Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?’

And that can now include the headlines from our blog.

Why explore a voice skill?

So while voice technology is relatively new, it has grown massively in a short time. Estimates say that half of all worldwide internet searches will be done using voice by 2020. And by this time it’s estimated that there will be 138 million devices that are specifically designed to be spoken to.

According to a US survey almost two thirds of people (65%) who have bought a ‘smart speaker’ wouldn’t go without it now.

So that’s why we’ve started exploring the technology.

Why a flash briefing skill?

Of all the skills on Alexa supported devices we chose news. News has come a long way since printed newspapers, and we see voice playing an increasingly important part in this over the coming years.

The way people access this blog has also changed a lot in the last few years. Six in 10 people used a desktop computer to read our posts back in 2013. That figure has now almost halved, with only 3 in 10 of our readers using a desktop in 2017.

Instead, the majority of readers now use a mobile device to access our stories. This shows how fast things can change, and voice technology could well be the new mobile.

Research also supports the potential for listening to the news via a smart speaker. Almost 8 in 10 people who buy an Alexa-compatible device do so because they want to listen to the news, according to a US survey.

So we identified this as a potentially important new area for getting our news out there.

And we aren’t the only ones.

At the time of writing there are 400 different news sources that you could add to your flash briefing, ranging from big news organisations to much smaller outlets.

At the present rate of growth there will be 200 more flash briefing skills before Christmas.

Our news skill

So what happens if you add the Cancer Research UK Science blog skill to your flash briefing?

If you add our skill, your flash briefing will read out the headlines and a snippet from the 4 most recent articles on our Science blog.

So if you have an Alexa-compatible device, why not add our skill to your flash briefing now and try it out?

We are really excited to see how people engage with our new skill. And we’ll be looking for feedback and news ways to develop the skill in response to how people use it.

We’re also already looking at what to do next. Could voice technology help us lead healthier lives? Listen out for updates.

Amelia Hammond is a digital innovation intern at Cancer Research UK


  • Echos Alex
    1 December 2017

    In the medical field, it is a very helpful skill that provides information on cancer and other health news. It is a good idea to provide cancer news to peoples through your blog using voice commands with Alexa.


  • Echos Alex
    1 December 2017

    In the medical field, it is a very helpful skill that provides information on cancer and other health news. It is a good idea to provide cancer news to peoples through your blog using voice commands with Alexa.