Yesterday, the British Broadcast Company (BBC) debuted its AI-powered voice assistant known as Beeb. The voice assistant was created in conjunction with Microsoft and is now available in the United Kingdom to users of the Windows Insider Program. During the beta test, users will provide feedback in advance of the full launch.
Beeb makes use of Microsoft’s Azure artificial intelligence infrastructure, including its speech recognition capabilities. Beeb isn’t the BBC’s first collaboration with Microsoft. The two companies teamed up on several projects in the past including a voice-powered iPlayer, which made its debut three years ago.
Users can take advantage of Beeb to access various BBC services. Currently Beeb can play podcasts, radio stations and various BBC programs. Users can also ask Beeb for the latest news and weather in the area. Although Alexa, Siri, and Google already provide these capabilities, Beeb is expected to understand the wide range of regional accents in the United Kingdom.
A BBC spokesperson noted, “We know how frustrating it can be when the voice assistants currently available don’t understand you, which can happen a lot if you have a strong regional accent.” She went on to say, “It’s important to us that Beeb works for everyone in the U.K., so we’ve been working hard to make sure that it can recognize these regional accents and accurately understand what’s being said, regardless of where in the U.K. you’re from. This is something we’ll be continuing to develop as we improve Beeb, and is one of the reasons we’ve launched Beeb early, so that we can improve its understanding of real people and accents.”
Unlike its competitors, Beeb uses a male voice as its default. The Beeb Beta is available for download today in the United Kingdom on Windows 10 tablets and PCs. Prospective beta testers must be enrolled in the Windows Insider Program to participate, although it’s free and easy to join the program.