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The future of entertainment is here. The BBC, in collaboration with Rosina Sound, is working on an interactive radio play for artificial intelligence-enabled home chatbots, like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home.

The production will be the first of its kind, and the futuristic, high-tech play is slated to be released by the end of the year.

The play’s the thing

The story, called The Inspection Chamber, will work similarly to choose-your-own-adventure books and games in which users can influence the direction of the story through the choices they make.

The creators of The Inspection Chamber are seeking to take that idea a bit further, however, to make listeners feel like they’re actually in the story.

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The narrator will ask you, the listener, questions throughout the play. Your answers to those questions will change the outcome of the narrative.

The questions are designed so the listener doesn’t have to step out of the story to consider their decision. Instead, they’re meant to feel like a character interacting with the other characters in the play.

The creators said they took inspiration from games like The Stanley Parable and Papa Sangre, and from authors such as Franz Kafka and Douglas Adams. The story became, in the creators’ own words, “a comedy science-fiction audio drama.”

The technology

The sci-fi elements are a natural fit for the medium through which the story will be presented. The show’s creators say they’ve built a “story engine” that lets the play work on a variety of different voice devices.

The Inspection Chamber will first arrive on Amazon Echo and Google Home, but the BBC is looking into other devices, like Apple’s HomePod and Microsoft and Harman Kardon’s Invoke speaker, as well.

The project comes out of a wider BBC initiative to explore spoken interfaces. Called Talking With Machines, it is looking at ways to share content through these technologies and to improve interactive audio interfaces. It also aims to create a platform for these interfaces that works across multiple devices.

Merging art and technology

The plot of The Inspection Chamber had to conform to certain limitations of the technology used to share it. For example, Amazon’s Alexa requires users to speak every 90 seconds, and the device only understands a limited number of phrases. The writers had to come up with ways to incorporate these phrases and time requirements into the story without making it feel forced.

This type of storytelling may be experimental for now, but as the technology improves, the content will likely become easier to create, with fewer creative limitations. And rather than shying away from tech in favor of the traditional, the BBC is meeting it head-on.

Thanks to their many virtues, physical books and theater productions may never go completely out of style. But new technologies are creating interesting possibilities in terms of plot, user experience, and more.

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer interested in AI, chatbots, and tech news. She writes for VentureBeat, MakeUseOf, The Week, and TechnoBuffalo.

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