The British Broadcasting Corporation or BBC may be best known for being, well, a broadcasting company but it actually has left very important legacies in the tech industry today. The BBC Micro in the 80s, for example, is one of history’s most important early computers, one that eventually inspired the Raspberry Pi that, in turn, created the single-board computer (SBC) market that we have today. Back to the present, it seems that BBC is once again getting knee-deep into technology, this time sinking its teeth into the already congested AI voice assistant market.
We have too few but also too many AI assistants today. While there’s always room for competitors, the fragmentation between Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant may already be too much for both consumers and services that tie into those. BBC’s Beeb, as it is being called, is adding yet another choice to the mix but it has a rather peculiar calling. Beyond naturally serving mostly BBC content and services, the voice assistant is also designed to understand the different accents that BBC’s customers use.
Speech recognition is already hard but it’s made harder by the fact that different people speak even a common language like English differently. Accents add a layer of complexity to that problem, especially when a country can have different accents. BBC Beeb is designed from the ground up to understand how folks in the UK talk, something that Alexa and Google Assistant reportedly still trip over today.
BBC isn’t doing it on its own though. It has partnered with Microsoft yet again to use the latter’s Azure AI platform as the foundations for Beeb. Coincidentally, of the four big tech companies, it is only Microsoft who has more or less scaled back its voice assistant endeavors, pushing Cortana into the background every year.
BBC’s Beeb isn’t yet ready for prime time, though, but Windows Insiders in the UK can already test the Windows app for themselves. Whether BBC plans on bringing Beeb’s capabilities to the rest of the world, however, is probably something the company hasn’t yet considered at this point, especially since the voice assistant will be catering to a very specific market.