Advanced Television

BBC’s Beeb voice assistant goes beta

June 3, 2020

By Colin Mann

Beeb, the new voice assistant from the BBC, first announced in August 2019, is to be made available in  an early version to UK-based members of Microsoft’s Windows Insider Programme, a community of people who regularly test out new technology.

In a Blog Post, Grace Boswood, COO, BBC Design + Engineering, says that since its introduction, the BBC has been working hard to get it ready for people to try it out, and is now ready to start testing it more publicly.

“We’re opening an early version – otherwise known as a beta – to UK-based members of Microsoft’s Windows Insider Programme, she advises. “People in this programme will be helping us to improve Beeb by experimenting with features and generally putting the voice assistant through its paces. The next step will be bringing this beta version out to the general public in the near future.”

“We’ve built Beeb because we know there is growing demand from people to access programmes and services with their voice – around one in five adults have a smart speaker in their home, and millions more have voice-activated devices in their pockets,” she notes. “Much like the BBC did with 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.”

“Building the technology to provide the first public service voice assistant doesn’t come easy, which is why our voice team is collaborating with Microsoft, which is helping us build the infrastructure behind it with Azure AI services,” she reveals. “We’ve worked on a number of successful projects with Microsoft in the past, so we know the team is brilliantly placed to help make Beeb as good as it can possibly be,” she suggests.

For those wishing to try out Beeb for themselves, Boswood advises that they need to be a UK-based member of Microsoft’s Windows Insider Programme. “If you’re not already in the programme and you’d like to sign up to it, you can find out more on the Windows Insider Programme website. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll then need to update your PC to the Windows 10 May 2020 Update or newer, download the ‘Beeb BETA’ app from the Microsoft Store here and sign in with your BBC account.

“In this first version you’ll be able to get to know Beeb and see what it can do. You can speak to it to get live and on-demand radio, music mixes and the BBC’s wide range of podcasts, as well as news and local weather updates,” she says. “Once it’s available, we’ll still be adding new features in the coming weeks and months – and your feedback will be an important part of how we decide what to add and when.”

“We’ve also worked with the writers behind some of our best shows to give Beeb a bit of personality. Ask it for a joke, and you’ll hear material from BBC comedy writers. Ask Beeb specifically for a Mash Report joke and you’ll get just that. It will also help you to get some more knowledge under your belt, with lots of quirky facts selected by comedy panel quiz show QI’s ‘elves’, the same team from the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast. So, if you ask Beeb to give you a QI fact, you’ll hear from Sandi Toksvig herself, who will inspire you with her dry wit and deep knowledge,” she reveals .

According to Boswood, the release is still a “very early” version, which means that not everything will be working perfectly from day one, suggesting that the future Beeb assistant will be able to do a lot more and will be available on additional platforms and devices. “We’re releasing this beta version to UK-based Windows Insiders now so that we can get crucial feedback that can help us shape what the final product looks like and how it works. We want to learn from how people use this beta version, so that we can then understand what additions will be useful in future and how we can improve what it already does,” she confirms.

“I want to reiterate that this is very much the first step with Beeb – we have a bold, ambitious vision for what we want it to look like in the future, but there’s a long way to go. Today though we’re taking an exciting first step by making the Beeb BETA available to members of the Windows Insider Programme, and we can’t wait to hear what people think of it,” she concludes.

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