The BBC’s voice assistant, Beeb, has been released to early adopters this week, bring easier access to BBC iPlayer and other services, as well as being able to answer questions and tell jokes.
Beeb is a voice assistant based on Microsoft technology, and will only initially be available as a download from the Windows store for Windows 10 computers – there is no current plan for a stand-alone device similar to Amazon or Google’s assistants.
Even so, the technology can provide a wealth of information relating to BBC services. Just say the command “OK Beeb” followed by:
- “Update me” to hear a roundup of the news
- “Play (Radio 1)” to listen to a particular radio station or podcast
- “Tell me a joke” to hear what you think of the assistant’s humour
- “Do you like (Killing Eve)?” to get the rundown of a BBC show
- “Will you be my boyfriend?” or other curveball questions for fun
This is still in the early stages of development, so functionality is limited. However, the BBC will be adding new features in the “coming weeks and months”, and have an “ambitious vision” for Beeb to be available across smart speakers, mobiles and televisions.
This also means that at this point other common features of smart assistants are not yet available, such as setting a timer, but developers are keen to focus initially on the BBC-specific elements which are not available on alternative devices.
Beeb’s synthesised digital voice has a broad northern English, male accent, with the team keen to ensure that the technology can recognise the voices of those with regional accents from across the UK.
The range and complexity of some UK regional accents make communicating with a voice assistant difficult for many, especially as the majority of these assistants are developed in the United States. The BBC’s UK-focussed voice recognition will be able to understand those from everywhere across the country.
The BBC is focussed on making a Voice Assistant which is accessible to those across the UK, allowing people to interact with their services. However, some people think that this is not a good use of licence fee money as there are already smart assistants which can carry out many of the same tasks as Beeb.