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.
The BBC is preparing to launch a rival to Amazon's Alexa called Beeb, with a pledge that it will understand British accents. The voice assistant, which has been created by an in-house BBC team, will be launched next year, with a focus on enabling people to find their favourite programmes and interact with online services. While some US-developed products have struggled to understand strong regional accents, the BBC will this week ask staff in offices around the UK to record their voices and make sure the software understands them. The BBC currently has no plans to launch a standalone physical product such as Amazon's Echo speaker or a Google Home device. Instead, the Beeb software will be built into the BBC's website, its iPlayer app on smart TVs, and made available to manufacturers who want to incorporate the public broadcaster's software.
Hope is at hand for millions of frustrated smart assistant users across the UK as the BBC announces plans for'Beeb', an AI that will recognise all British regional accents. Videos of Glaswegians, Liverpudlians, Mancunians and others have spread online in recent years, showing their struggles with products like Amazon's Alexa. Many have been forced to adopt a'received pronunciation' way of speaking to be understood. Ironically, this formal accent was once seen as a bastion of style within the BBC's own cadre of presenters. Developers claim the smart assistant will be available next year on the BBC's website, iPlayer and as a software plugin for hardware like Amazon's Echo speaker range.
Cultural biases in tech aren't just limited to facial recognition -- they crop up in voice assistants as well. The Washington Post has partnered with research groups on studies showing that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant aren't as accurate understanding people with strong accents, no matter how fluent their English might be. People with Indian accents were at a relatively mild disadvantage in one study, but the overall accuracy went down by at least 2.6 percent for those with Chinese accents, and by as much as 4.2 percent for Spanish accents. The gap was particularly acute in media playback, where a Spanish accent might net a 79.9 accuracy rate versus 91.8 percent from an Eastern US accent. A second study showed how voice assistants would frequently mangle interpretations when people read news headlines out loud.