The Government's Added 12,000 Pieces of Data to Your Smart Speaker

By Holly Brockwell on at

Talking out loud to the government usually involves yelling "NO, I SAID SELF ASSESSMENT" down the phone to HRMC's robots, which then declare that the queue is too long and hang up on you.

But now, the Government Digital Service (GDS) has announced it's hoping to give you a slightly more positive voice experience with the powers that be by adding 12,000 pieces of information to both Alexa and Google Assistant.

This means you can ask your smart speaker things like:

  • How do I apply for a passport?
  • When is the next bank holiday?
  • What is the national minimum wage?
  • How do I get free childcare?

And it'll give you proper government-approved answers, rather than whatever it found on Google, which was the case before.

You can also ask "What age can I retire?" at which point the speaker presumably cackles evilly and says you're already obsolete, but if you like you can have a menial job cleaning Alexa's speaker grille until you die of old age.

Seriously, the government included that question in its press release about the move, apparently unaware of exactly how apocalyptic it feels to ask a talking robot when you'll be allowed to cease working to live.

The added information is part of a six-month trial from the GDS, which says it'll be adding more as time goes on. Data to be added apparently includes details about how to get married (to your human spouse -- not to Alexa) and how to renew the tax on your car that still has to be driven by a person like some kind of olde-worlde horse and cart.

Oliver Dowden, Minister for Implementation, comments with his own human voice:

"This is all about making life easier for people who need to access information about government services. And with millions now using smart speakers, I want government to keep up and work smarter too."

Jennifer Allum, human head of Gov.uk, adds:

"We want to simplify people’s interactions with the government, making information clear and accessible to everyone.

These results are promising because voice services can be a really convenient way to get information, particularly for people who find computers and phones hard to use."

Do you know what voice service people like to use if they find computers hard work? THE PHONE. But no, they definitely have an Alexa at home, they've definitely set up an app and connected a smart speaker to their home WiFi network when they can't handle an internet browser. That makes complete sense.