United Kingdom

BBC's smart assistant 'Beeb' will have the accent of a Northern man

The BBC's long-awaited voice assistant 'Beeb' will soon enter into public testing for the first time and it will be voiced by a 'warm and friendly' male northern accent.

Beeb will be male to avoid any associations with females being 'subservient', which BBC chiefs say is a concern many have with other smart assistants, such as Alexa. 

The BBC bosses opted to put a northern twang on the voice in a move away from the antiquated necessity of southern RP (received pronunciation) on the airwaves. 

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The BBC's long-awaited voice assistant 'Beeb' will soon enter into public testing for the first time. Its developers have also revealed it will be voiced by a 'warm and friendly' male northern accent

In its first iteration, which the BBC admits will likely have flaws and hopes the testing can identify, users can ask Beeb to get live and on-demand radio, music mixes, podcasts, as well as news and local weather updates.

Users will also be able to get jokes from The Mash Report and quirky facts by QI, developers hope. 

The technology is being made available as early test software on PC first, in partnership with Microsoft. 

BBC bosses insist it is committed to continuing work with Amazon on its Alexa voice assistant and says it has no plans to later launch a physical device for Beeb. 

'We're really conscious of the sort of the problematic associations that exists between female voices and assistants, in that they're sort of deemed to be being used in that sort of subservient way so we really wanted to make ... a point and to put a male voice in there at the start,' Andy Webb, BBC's head of product for voice and AI, told the PA news agency.

'Secondly, it's not from down south, it's from up north. We wanted to make a break from that traditional southern RP (Received Pronunciation) that is traditional with all broadcasters. 

'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.' 

 The technology is being made available as early test software on PC first, in partnership with Microsoft. BBC bosses insist it is committed to continuing work with Amazon on its Alexa voice assistant and says it has no plans to later launch a physical device for Beeb (file photo)

'Beeb' will be able to recognise regional accents  

Hope is at hand for millions of frustrated smart assistant users across the UK as the BBC announces plans for 'Beeb', an AI that will recognise all British regional accents.

Videos of Glaswegians, Liverpudlians, Mancunians and others have spread online in recent years, showing their struggles with products like Amazon's Alexa.

Many have been forced to adopt a 'received pronunciation' way of speaking to be understood.

Ironically, this formal accent was once seen as a bastion of style within the BBC's own cadre of presenters. 

It is hoped that Beeb will let viewers find their favourite programmes and access other online services offered by the broadcaster.

Last year, there was widespread outrage as it merged tech companies were recording private conversations detected by the smart assistants. 

The firms claimed the recordings were used to improve their voice assistants, but after this was exposed to the public all companies altered their working methods. 

The BBC says its assistant will not record conversations and use them to improve its functionality, which many deemed a clear breach of privacy.  

Mr Webb said when there are cases where it is useful to be able to do that, companies should seek explicit permission from users.  

Beeb has learnt from the fallout of 2019, in which Google and Amazon bore the brunt, and will make it easy for users to obtain all information the device has recorded. 

An anonymous transcript of what is said will be available to users, in compliance with GDPR.

However, Amazon was accused of making the process of obtaining this too convoluted, To combat this, the BBC has put the option in the settings menu. 

Mr Webb says: ''All you have to do is go into the settings menu there's one big button that says give me a copy of my information and that can be presented to you. 

'Apart from that, we don't really have a lot of use for it, so any of the information that we do use for training we scrub, we anonymise, we remove all of your personal identifiers from it and we actually remove quite a lot of the utterance.' 

The BBC has stressed that this is a first step for Beeb, meaning not everything will be working perfectly from day one. 

Those interested in testing it out will need to be a UK-based member of Microsoft's Windows Insider Programme with the Windows 10 May 2020 Update installed, and can then download the 'Beeb BETA' app from the Microsoft Store. 

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