BBC releases ‘Beeb’ voice assistant in beta, male accent
The BBC has presented its new digital assistant, a male voice, to avoid the “problematic associations” of female-voiced rivals such as Amazon’s Alexa, which have endured criticism for reinforcing gender stereotypes.
The BBC’s in-house voice assistant, ‘Beeb,’ has been released in beta, allowing Windows Insiders in the UK to examine the software on Windows 10, the UK broadcaster announced.
The corporation boasts that Beeb is “the first public service voice assistant.” If you’re signed up as a Windows beta tester, you can download and install the software from the Microsoft Store.
The voice-activated service, named “Beeb”, will have a limited public release this week and the corporation announced it put extra thought into what accent would make it different from other US-developed services.
Beeb’s is a try by the BBC to have more control over user experience and user data, rather than ceding it all to large tech firms like Amazon and Google. Their Alexa and Google Assistant command the vast majority of the voice assistant market.
The Guardian notes that there’s a fear within the broadcaster that it ventures being left behind as listening and seeing habits change. In the past, the BBC has been opposed to indiscriminately provide all its content over third-party platforms like Google Podcasts and TuneIn.
As a result of people who wake up the voice assistant by speaking “Hey Beeb” will be addressed with a “warm and friendly” accent from the north of England, guiding them towards BBC programs and offering localized news and weather reports.
The BBC’s voice assistant has begun with a relatively limited selection of features. You can ask Beeb to play the BBC’s radio stations, podcasts, and music mixes, and use it to get news and local weather updates. There’s also some comedy content added; you can ask Beeb for jokes, or exciting facts read by QI presenter Sandi Toksvig. However, there’s no support for other familiar voice assistant features like timers.
A Unesco statement last year claimed that the often submissive and flirty responses submitted by female-voiced digital assistants to many queries – including abusive ones – reinforced ideas of women as subservient.
Privacy is a crucial concern with any voice assistant. BBC News states that Beeb won’t keep any voice recordings, only anonymized transcripts. Over the past year, other foremost voice assistant providers have been hit by scandals as it’s emerged that their employees and contractors have been able to hear to voice recordings from the services.
Beeb has been created to be more representative of the UK’s plethora of regional accents. As you can listen in the video embedded above, Beeb speaks with a northern English accent, and the BBC states it’s focused on making sure the assistant can understand regional accents from across the country. BBC News notes that beta testers will be asked to present details of their accent to help further train the assistant.
The voice assistant also uses a male-sounding voice in an attempt to avoid the harmful gender stereotypes that female-sounding voice assistants can enforce. The BBC’s Andy Webb told The Guardian that the assistant was created to prevent the “problematic associations” of other assistants
Although its functionality is limited at launch, we’ve written before that more competition in the voice assistant space is no bad thing. Alexa and Google Assistant will never be capable of doing everything, so it could be sufficient to have multiple specialized voice assistants working together to answer to voice queries.