BBC unveils beta of Beeb new voice assistant | Infrastructure | News | Rapid TV News
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Nearly three years after it first announced work in the area and just under a year that it had a working product, the BBC has announced that it is ready to start testing more publicly the Beeb voice assistant by making available a Beta version.
beeb logo 3June2020
In 2017, the BBC announced that it was working with Microsoft to explore the next generation of TV technology in the form of an experimental voice-controlled version of the BBC iPlayer based on artificial intelligence. The project aimed to build a product allowing allow individuals to sign in to BBC services using their unique voiceprint and to talk to their TV to select what they want to watch.

The corporation noted, presciently, that with voice-controlled interfaces such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana starting to gain popularity, there was a good chance that in some situations, speaking to a computer will be the main way that people interact with digital devices.

Fast-forward to today and the BBC says that it has built Beeb because around one in five adults have a smart speaker in their home, and millions more have voice-activated devices in their pockets. The BBC added much like it did with iPlayer, it wanted to make sure everyone could benefit from the new technology, and bring people exciting new content, programmes and services in a trusted, easy-to-use way.

BBC’s beta is open to UK-based members of Microsoft’s Windows Insider Programme, a community of people who regularly test out new technology. People in the programme will be helping to improve Beeb by experimenting with features and generally putting the voice assistant through its paces. The next step will be bringing this beta version out to the general public in the near future.

“Building the technology to provide the first public service voice assistant doesn’t come easy, which is why our voice team is collaborating with Microsoft, which is helping us build the infrastructure behind it with Azure AI services,” explained Grace Boswood, COO, BBC Design + Engineering. “We’ve worked on a number of successful projects with Microsoft in the past, so we know the team is brilliantly placed to help make Beeb as good as it can possibly be.”

The beta version is designed to allow users to get to know Beeb and see what it can do. Users can speak to it to get live and on-demand radio, music mixes and the BBC’s range of podcasts, as well as news and local weather updates. Once it’s available, the BBC said that it will continue to introduce new features in the coming weeks and months. It added that user feedback will be an important part of how the BBC decides what to add and when.

“This is still a very early version, which means that not everything will be working perfectly from day one, and the future Beeb assistant will be able to do a lot more and will be available on more platforms and devices,” added Boswood. “We’re releasing this beta version to UK-based Windows Insiders now so that we can get This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. that can help us shape what the final product looks like and how it works. We want to learn from how people use this beta version, so that we can then understand what additions will be useful in future and how we can improve what it already does.”