December 5, 2023

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OK Beeb: BBC voice assistant will learn regional accents

A photo illustration shows a floating speech bubble over three smart speakers, with the speech bubble reading "Ok Beeb, play Radio 1"Image copyright
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Beeb, the BBC’s voice assistant, has been released to early adopters for testing on Windows computers.

The voice assistant, which uses Microsoft technology, is in the beta phase – a period when not all features are present or working properly.

Its synthesised digital voice is based on that of a UK voice actor with a northern England accent.

And the team behind Beeb have been “working hard” to ensure it can understand other regional accents.

When a user downloads the beta version, they will be asked what accent they have – so their voice can be used to train the assistant too.

But, the BBC says, no recordings will be kept – only anonymised transcripts of the few seconds after a user says the wake command, “OK Beeb”.

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Quite Interesting answers

The beta version can access BBC radio, music, podcasts, news and weather and respond to some queries with unique answers based on BBC programmes.

New features would be added in “coming weeks and months”, the BBC said.

It had an “ambitious vision” for Beeb.

But there remained “a long way to go”.

And common features in other voice assistants, such as timers, for example, are not included in this first version.

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Media captionIs the voice assistant on your phone sexist?

UK members of Microsoft’s Windows Insider programme using the May 2020 Windows 10 operating system update can install it from the Windows Store if they already use a BBC account for iPlayer and Sounds, the BBC’s streaming services.

The wake command can be followed by others such as:

  • “Update me,” for the news
  • “Play Radio 1,” – or a specific show
  • “Tell me a joke”
  • “Tell me a fact,” for trivia from QI (Quite Interesting)
  • “Do you like Killing Eve?”
  • “Will you be my boyfriend?” and other curveball questions

“Ultimately we envision that Beeb will be available across a wide range of devices, including smart speakers, mobiles, televisions and many others,” a representative said.

“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.”

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