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Despite new features for Google Assistant and Alexa coming virtually every week, the most popular uses for AI assistants are fairly consistent: to play music, set timers, check the weather, and listen to the news. But the way assistants share the news is changing.

Google today announced a new project and format for listening to the news.

With the new format, when people say “Play the news,” Google Assistant will play up to eight news briefs from different media outlets. Each lasts an average of 50 seconds and no more than two minutes, followed by longer stories that last two to 15 minutes.

Once you’ve listened to a news brief, old episodes will be discarded in exchange for fresh updates if any are available, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

By comparison, today when most users say “Play the news,” Google Assistant lists full-length news clips users can select inside the Home app.

The project has been underway for the past year, with partners at more than 20 news organizations — such as the Associated Press, South China Morning Post, Hollywood Reporter, and CNBC, according to a Google blog post. At launch, the feature will be available to a limited number of English-speaking Google Assistant users in the United States.

More news outlets have been invited to participate, and they’re being instructed to give each story a headline. Those headlines will be displayed on smartphones and, in the future, on smart displays like Google Home Hub, a company spokesperson said.

News outlets were also instructed to avoid references to previous content and to make sure each story only covers a single topic. Google is also asking journalists to introduce themselves and to avoid music in all short stories.

As tens of millions of smart speakers appear in homes, the future of news these devices provide is beginning to evolve. Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa can all respond to the phrase “Play the news” to provide updates, and they’ve been gradually getting new features.

When you aren’t using Amazon’s Echo Show and the device is in ambient mode, its screen will flash a series of news headlines. Some pertain to important recent news, but early on the majority of stories shared on the screen of the device are best described as irreverent.

The Echo Show also shares text news briefs from outlets like the Associated Press, USA Today, and TicToc by Bloomberg that Alexa can read to you. To make this feel more authentic, Amazon engineers are working on a synthesized AI voice that was trained to sound like a news broadcaster.

For its part, a standalone Google Podcasts app was introduced this summer, and roughly a month ago Google’s Home Hub and other smart displays with Google Assistant began to share news videos curated by the Google News team from outlets like CNN.


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