The BBC has launched its long-awaited Beeb voice assistant for public testing. UK-based members of the Microsoft's Windows Insider Programme will be the first to test the beta, thanks to BBC's new partnership with Microsoft and its Azure AI services.
Last year, the BBC had disclosed that it was working on its own voice assistant to enable users to take advantage of the technology regardless of their accent.
Beeb voice assistant is designed to recognise different British accents and to enable specific searches across various BBC services, including Sounds, Sounds, Sports and News. The broadcaster says its users will be able to use Beeb to search and play live and on-demand radio, podcasts and music mixes, or to request weather and news updates.
Beeb will also provide access to curated content, such as, jokes created by BBC's comedy writers.
It will communicate with users in a male northern English accent, avoiding any associations with 'subservient' female voice and moving away from the antiquated emphasis on southern RP (Received Pronunciation).
"What we really find is, when it's warm and friendly and kind of welcoming and it's easy on the ears ... it actually becomes quite pleasant to listen to, so we worked hard on representing the diversity of our audience much more by making it from outside of that London southern RP," said Andy Webb, BBC's head of product for voice and AI.
The BBC states that its voice assistance will not record conversations to improve the functionality of the tool.
Last year, Amazon and Google faced intense criticism after it emerged that they were recording personal conversations detected by their smart assistants.
Microsoft also admitted that it was collecting voice conversations from Skype and the Cortana voice assistant and employing contractors to transcribe them for internal use.
Webb says tech companies must seek permission from users if they wish to record their conversations to improve voice assistants.
It is still early days for Beeb, and BBC's main focus at present is to get feedback from users. The broadcaster says that there could well be bugs in Beeb at this point, adding that once those bugs have been removed more features will be incorporated into the tool.
In due course, the BBC's voice assistance is expected to be available across various smart home devices, such as Google Home speakers and Amazon Echo.
The BBC says it has no plans to launch a physical device for Beeb at this point.
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