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BBC launches voice assistant that will learn regional accents


It's a highly frustrating moment talking to a voice assistant that doesn't understand your regional accent. But a new voice assistant launched by the BBC will learn UK regional accents to ensure you don't have to attempt to alter your accent in order to be understood. That voice assistant is called Beeb -- a nod to the BBC's nickname -- and it's just been released in beta form for a select group of users to try out. Those users are UK-based members of Microsoft's Windows Insider Programme, a group of early adopters who test new tech and suggest improvements. Beeb can play BBC radio, music, podcasts, news, and weather.

OK Beeb: BBC voice assistant will learn regional accents

BBC News

Beeb, the BBC's voice assistant, has been released to early adopters for testing on Windows computers. The voice assistant, which uses Microsoft technology, is in the beta phase - a period when not all features are present or working properly. Its synthesised digital voice is based on that of a UK voice actor with a northern England accent. And the team behind Beeb have been "working hard" to ensure it can understand other regional accents. When a user downloads the beta version, they will be asked what accent they have - so their voice can be used to train the assistant too. Back in August, we first announced #Beeb, the new voice assistant from the BBC.

The BBC's Beeb voice assistant is ready for testing on PC


Last year the BBC announced it was working on its own voice assistant, called "Beeb," designed to help customers take advantage of voice assistant technology regardless of their accent. Existing assistants still have issues understanding accents, and nowhere is this truer than Britain, which has a broad range of accents despite its small geographic size. Now, Beeb is going into beta on PC. The early version of the software will be available to UK-based members of Microsoft's Windows Insider program (download the app from the Microsoft Store here). Microsoft is actually playing a pivotal role in the development of Beeb, with its Azure AI services being used by the BBC to build the infrastructure behind the platform.

BBC releases first beta of its Beeb voice assistant to UK Windows Insider members – TechCrunch


Back in August 2019, the BBC made some waves with the news that it was developing a voice assistant called Beeb, an English language "Alexa" of its own that could interact with and control its array of radio and TV services, and its on-demand catalogue, and able to understand the array of accents you find in across the BBC's national footprint to boot. Ten months on, it's releasing its first live version of the service in the form of a beta to a select group of early adopters: UK-based members of the Windows Insider Program, a beta-testing, bug-seeking, early-adopter group popular in the Windows community, with over 10 million users globally. The idea with the limited release beta -- according to Grace Boswood, COO of BBC Design and Engineering -- will be to get Insiders to try out various features and stress test Beeb in the early beta, while at the same time giving the BBC a trove of usage data that can help it continue to train Beeb further, ahead of a wider release. The BBC is not naming a date yet for the general release. When you are a member in the UK, you have to be using the latest release of Windows 10, and then you download Beeb BETA form the Windows App Store.)

Winston Churchill's inspiring wartime speeches in Parliament

BBC News

The wartime prime minister Winston Churchill's victorious address to the nation marked the end of the war in Europe, on 8 May 1945. But his speeches through the course of the war galvanised and heartened those fighting and enduring the dangers and privations of World War II. "Winston Churchill's words inspired a nation," says the victorious prime minister's great grandson. "What we want to do is to help inspire a new generation in their struggle against Covid." As the country - and much of Europe - marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day in the most unusual of circumstances, Randolph Churchill is launching a competition for young people to try their hand at a rousing speech.

2020 predictions for healthcare IT from six industry experts


Advanced technologies have caused a significant impact on the development of the healthcare industry. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in particular, have allowed for significant breakthroughs in life science and healthcare research and treatments, whether that's automating critical but repetitive tasks to free up time for clinicians, through to automatic speech recognition for faster disease diagnosis, or the ability to create synthetic controls for clinical trials. But with 75 per cent of healthcare enterprises planning to execute an AI strategy next year, there's a far greater opportunity round the corner to further unleash its potential. Here, six experts from leading healthcare organisations including Brainomix, AiCure, HeartFlow, Cambridge Cognition, Oxford Brain Diagnostics and Zebra Medical Vision, share their views on what 2020 holds for the industry. "As highlighted earlier this year, the NHS aims to become a world leader in AI and machine learning in the next five years. In 2020, we expect to see this become more apparent in practical terms with, AI technologies becoming the predominant driving force behind imaging diagnostics. With around 780,000 people suffering a stroke each year in Europe, and 7.4 million people living with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK, it is imperative we find ways to reduce the burden on healthcare organisations and improve time to disease detection. The number of MRI and CT scans for example is already on the rise, and AI has the ability to read scans as accurately as an expert physician. Utilising these new technologies to review scans for any disease can reduce patient wait time and ease the burden on medical staff. There will be greater recognition next year of the value of AI in augmenting human performance."

30 AI people in Europe to follow on Twitter Sifted


It feels like this man needs no introduction, but for anyone who doesn't know who Demis Hassabis is, here's the lowdown. He's the cofounder and chief executive of the London-headquartered DeepMind AI lab, which was acquired by Google in 2014 for £400m. Prior to DeepMind, Hassabis had his own computer games company called Elixir Studios, but his passion for games goes way back. He was a chess master at the age of 13 and the second-highest-rated under 14 player in the world at one time. Catherine Breslin is a machine learning scientist and consultant based in Cambridge.

Facebook Portal security concerns laid bare as company admits humans can listen in


Facebook's Portal smart home device is finally launching in the UK – but a human contractor might end up listening to your voice commands. The device, whose AI-equipped camera will follow users around the room in order to keep them in the frame during video calls, will be available to British consumers for the first time from Oct 15. Users will be able to make voice calls using Facebook Messenger and encrypted voice calls using WhatsApp, as well as watch Facebook's TV service in tandem with their friends. But Facebook admits up front that clips of the instructions given to Portal's voice assistant might be passed to human contractors to check whether they have been correctly interpreted by its speech recognition software – unless users explicitly opt out. Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's vice president of augmented and virtual reality, said that Portal would never record the content of anyone's video calls, and that its "smart camera" software remains entirely on the device without any data being sent back to Facebook.

Does Amazon have answers for the future of the NHS?

The Guardian

Enthusiasts predicted the plan would relieve the pressure on hard-pressed GPs. Critics saw it as a sign of creeping privatisation and a data-protection disaster in waiting. Reactions to news last month that Amazon's voice-controlled digital assistant Alexa was to begin using NHS website information to answer health queries were many and varied. US-based healthcare tech analysts say the deal is just the latest of a series of recent moves that together reveal an audacious, long-term strategy on the part of Amazon. From its entry into the lucrative prescription drugs market and development of AI tools to analyse patient records, to Alexa apps that manage diabetes and data-driven experiments on how to cut medical bills, the $900bn global giant's determination to make the digital disruption of healthcare a central part of its future business model is becoming increasingly clear.

Facebook admits contractors listened to users' recordings without their knowledge

The Guardian

Facebook has become the latest company to admit that human contractors listened to recordings of users without their knowledge, a practice the company now says has been "paused". Citing contractors who worked on the project, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday that the company hired people to listen to audio conversations carried out on Facebook Messenger. The practice involved users who had opted in Messenger to have their voice chats transcribed, the company said. The contractors were tasked with re-transcribing the conversations in order to gauge the accuracy of the automatic transcription tool. "Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," a Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian.