An Alexa skill to question the very nature of humanity

Our friends at Screenmedia were approached to develop a voice experience to promote season three of Channel 4’s award-winning show Humans. The promotional activity for previous seasons had secured Baftas for 4Creative, the broadcaster’s in-house agency.

Like the Turing Test, but with humanity on trial

Humans takes place in an alternative version of the present day. Humans live alongside synths – artificially-created machines that look and act like us. To promote the show, could we create a back-to-front version of the Turing test – one where we test humans to make sure they are not machines?

The first step was a creative workshop with Screenmedia and 4 Creative – setting parameters and exploring the ideas we should develop in our first drafts. We then agreed the scope for a test script, which would act as a creative proof of concept.

Slots, narrative call-backs – and another voice for Alexa

It wasn’t going to be enough to create a one-dimensional parlour game. Everyone on the project wanted to push the technology as far as it could go. So we built complex question sequences which gave Alexa an air of genuine intelligence and perception – backed up with a selective use of pre-defined ‘slots’. This allowed Screenmedia to code specific responses relating to the user’s response. The effect is uncanny.

Alexa also responded to many of the inputs from the user – and even handed over to a human when it’s clear the user could be about to fail the test. All of this needed to be scripted, in a spreadsheet which grew to over 200 rows.

The most popular Alexa skill of all time.
And a D&AD winner to boot.

Within a month of going live, The Human Test broke all records for an entertainment skill on Amazon Echo. Then came a crop of awards, culminating in a coveted pencil from D&AD. It looks like we passed.

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