The BBC is developing its own digital voice assistant, called “Beeb,” to rival Amazon’s Alexa, according to The Guardian. Instead of building its own smart speaker or other hardware, Beeb will be available on BBC’s website, its smart TV iPlayer app, and on smart speakers from other manufacturers.
Beeb will focus on connecting users to BBC’s existing online programs and services, and comes as it’s started removing its content from third-party platforms, such as Google and the audio-streaming service TuneIn. The BBC has said it wasn’t receiving enough listener data from these platforms to develop future programming.
Many US-designed voice assistants have also had problems understanding the regional accents of some UK users. The BBC is recording the voices of staff from its offices throughout the UK, and using them to test Beeb, to ensure it can understand the full range of accents.
A spokesperson told BBC News:
“Much like we did with BBC iPlayer, we want to make sure everyone can benefit from this new technology, and bring people exciting new content, programmes and services — in a trusted, easy-to-use way. This marks another step in ensuring public service values can be protected in a voice-enabled future.”
The project will be developed by a much smaller team, and with fewer resources, than the tech giants that have designed other voice assistants, and it will offer a more limited set of functions. But conversely, it will have access to BBC’s vast archive of news and entertainment audio content.
“With an assistant of its own, the BBC will have the freedom to experiment with new programs, features and experiences without someone else’s permission to build it in a certain way,” according to the spokesperson.
In the UK, smart speakers are widely owned, thanks to price cuts by Amazon and Google. About 20 percent of British households already use voice assistants, with a significant impact on the way users access media like radio.
But recently, reports have revealed that Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all been using employees or contractors to listen to voice recordings from users, without adequate disclosure, and in some cases revealing sensitive information. Other revelations in recent years have shaken the public’s trust in Silicon Valley tech giants when it comes to the handling of user data. The BBC hopes that the public may view it differently.
“People know and trust the BBC, so it will use its role as public service innovator in technology to ensure everyone – not just the tech-elite – can benefit from accessing content and new experiences in this new way.”
Photo by NDB Photos [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
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