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BBC testing ‘Beeb’ AI voice assistant with Windows Insiders

UK users of Microsoft’s testing programme will help shape the future of the BBC's digital assistant

voice recognition and commands

The BBC has opened the testing phase for its AI-powered voice assistant exclusively with those who routinely test updates to the Windows operating system.

UK members of the Windows Insider Programme can download the virtual assistant by grabbing the ‘Beeb BETA’ app from the Microsoft Store, where they can experiment with features and put the voice assistant through its paces.

These users will need to have installed the Windows 10 May 2020 update, however, which, Microsoft has incidentally warned its users against doing unless it’s shipped to their devices specifically. This is due to the developer identifying a string of issues that could lead to significant errors due to hardware compatibility issues.

The Beeb AI assistant aims to help users in the UK by navigating BBC services and access BBC content. There are no plans to build a device to rival Amazon Echo or Google Home, although Beeb will be built into the BBC website, iPlayer and all smart TVs.

The BBC's voice team has previously collaborated with Microsoft to build the infrastructure behind Beeb with Azure AI services, as well as working with the industry giant on a number of other projects in the past.

“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,” said BBC Design and Engineering’s chief operating officer Grace Boswood. 

“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.”

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The first version of Beeb will allow users to speak to access live TV and radio broadcast as well as programmes on-demand. Developers will add further features in the coming weeks and months, with feedback from Windows Insiders critical to the development path.

Not everything will be working as it should, the BBC added, with developers hoping feedback can shape what this early, stripped-down version will look like in the future when additions are made and compatibility with systems is expanded.

This beta-testing process will precede the rollout of Beeb in beta version to the general public for further testing and experimentation.

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