BBC set to launch “Beeb” AI voice assistant

Assistant will be trained to recognise a range of UK accents

Remote control flicking through BBC news

The BBC is working on a voice assistant that will better understand the way people speak across the UK.

According to reports from BBC News, the assistant, currently given a working title of "Beeb", will be trained on a variety of regional accents with BBC staff being used to help in its training. Understanding voices from across the UK has long been a problem from voice assistants more attuned for US accents.

The AI assistant is being developed by an in-house team at the broadcaster and is set to be launched next year with the aim of helping users in the UK. While the BBC has no plans to launch its own device to rival the Amazon Echo or Google Home, Beeb would be built into the BBC's website, iPlayer app and smart TVs and made available to manufacturers that wanted to use the software on their devices.

The voice assistant will be activated by the wake word "Beeb", but will not replicate the functionality found in other voice assistants as a much smaller team is developing the technology. BBC employees will be asked to record a couple of minutes of audio to help train the assistant to understand different accents and dialects.

"Around one in five adults have a smart speaker in their home and millions more have voice-activated devices in their pockets so there is growing demand from people to access programmes and services with their voice. But people are concerned about how these devices use their data," said a BBC spokesperson.

"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," they added.

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