Our Co-Founder Jen Talks Smart Speakers on BBC’s The Media Show

Jen Heape
Jen Heape
Sep 2 · 4 min read

“Hey Google: are smart speakers surveillance tools of a new dystopian capitalist world order?”

Sorry, I don’t understand.

“Well, let me introduce you to some people who do know the answers to these big questions…”

And with this, the Financial Times’ European Technology Correspondent Madhumita Murgia opened a special edition of R4’s The Media Show, aired 28th August.

Our co-founder Jen Heape sat on the panel alongside Emma Kendrew, Accenture’s AI and Intelligent Automation Lead, and Mukul Devichand, Executive Editor of BBC Voice + AI.

We reckon the whole 27 minutes of the show is worth a listen, of course.

However, if you’re pushed on time, these were our three favourite parts of the discussion:

“Smart speakers are a bit of a red herring” (06:04)

Jen reckons that in the near future Voice will become “seamlessly integrated” into our homes. For now, however, the physical hardware of a smart speaker helps consumers to trust and become habituated to using the technology — so there’s no need to get too hung up on speaker price points.

As Mukul then pointed out (after being interrupted by Google), there’s not much in a smart speaker. AI assistants live in the cloud; smart speakers help us to access them.

“Jen, your company as well — it’s working with publishers, advertisers… can you give us a sense of how they’re using it?” (10:24)

From quickly re-purchasing products (Domino’s Pizza), to PR drops (Nike), to accessing information quickly and intuitively (Virgin Trains), Jen told listeners a few ways in which brands are getting on board with Voice First experiences. As Emma went on to say, one of the main purposes is developing brand awareness and sentiment: “it’s about deepening the relationship between the consumer and the brand”.

One brand that Vixen Labs have worked with is Workshop Coffee. We produced their Amazon Alexa skill which helps you make the perfect cup of coffee at home. Check out more about how the skill came about on the blog.

“That’s just a bigger issue we have with the digital ecosystem” (18:30)

There seems to be a tendency to discuss Voice as if it’s a whole other being, but as Jen pointed out: it’s just an interface to access the Internet.

Consumers might complete a search which leads to advertising later down the line: “That’s the Internet… I mean, I have a problem with that. But that’s not Voice.”

As for data collection techniques like ambient listening? Very far off being implemented, if ever, said Jen. “I think it would just be a type of betrayal that consumers wouldn’t ever recover from.”

“Unless people are told [about privacy], and empowered to make those decisions, it’s a moot point” (22:38)

Many people remain concerned about data usage. However, as Jen said, “even with smart speakers there’s actually a huge amount you can do to limit how your data is used, how it is collected, and so on and so forth.”

At some point consumers will stop being so concerned, but will that be for the right reason? Will it be because they’ve been adequately educated — or will it be because they throw their hands in the air and decide that the advantages of ease outweigh the disadvantages of risk?

Jen hopes that wider education, empowerment and regulation come before what she refers to as the “tipping point of inconvenience, where actually we just go: you know what, it’s just so helpful to have”.

Emma made a parallel with the evolution of mobile payments technology. Mass adoption did occur, but only once people felt that their money was safe and that usage would become widespread.


Did The Media Show pique your interest in smart speakers? We at Vixen Labs offer workshops to help you learn and apply Voice First concepts, as well as design services.

Vixen Labs

News and perspectives from the Vixen Labs team. Voice First Strategy, Experience and Marketing specialists.

Jen Heape

Written by

Jen Heape

CCO & Co-Founder of Vixen Labs, a voice consultancy specialising in voice first & conversational technology strategy, experience and marketing.

Vixen Labs

News and perspectives from the Vixen Labs team. Voice First Strategy, Experience and Marketing specialists.

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