back to article BBC voice assistant promises to summon streams even if you're just a little bit Brahms and Liszt

The BBC has launched a beta version of a Windows-only voice assistant that can only play the broadcaster's content – though it can understand strong British accents, we're told. The assistant, called "Beeb", was announced in August 2019. At the time, Auntie said that it had no plans to create a smart speaker to rival Alexa or …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1984

    “He thought of the telescreen with its never-sleeping ear. They could spy upon you night and day, but if you kept your head you could still outwit them. With all their cleverness they had never mastered the secret of finding out what another human being was thinking. . . . Facts, at any rate, could not be kept hidden. They could be tracked down by inquiry, they could be squeezed out of you by torture. But if the object was not to stay alive but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make? They could not alter your feelings; for that matter you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted to. They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.”

    ― George Orwell, 1984

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: 1984

      Under the spreading chestnut tree......

    2. NATTtrash Silver badge

      Re: 1984

      Reading this passage (again) it dawns that perhaps the "optimistic" 1948 human could not phantom the 2020 "advances":

      they had never mastered the secret of finding out what another human being was thinking

      ...until their developed automated, continuous tracking based profiling

      They could be tracked down by inquiry, they could be squeezed out of you by torture

      ...or simply by offering you to carry around your own personal tracking device, for which you would stand in a queue to buy

      They could not alter your feelings

      ...up to the point that they invented social media and started to foster a bubble culture with stories that amplify themselves, however crazy they seem at the start

      ...but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable

      widely available to countless (commercial) "service providers", enabling it to be tailored, aka steered without even you yourself realising it.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: 1984

        ...up to the point that they invented social media and started to foster a bubble culture with stories that amplify themselves, however crazy they seem at the start

        I always got the impression that Social Media was for the distraction and manipulation of the Prole population.

    3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged

      Re: 1984

      In version 2.0, the voice of a certain BBC journalist whose name sounds like Korer Lunscurd responding, "Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed—no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull.”

  2. Detective Emil
    Unhappy

    “GPP feature?” said Arthur. “What’s that?”

    “Oh, it says Genuine People Personalities.”

    “Oh,” said Arthur, “sounds ghastly.”

    1. tony2heads
      Terminator

      Re: “GPP feature?” said Arthur. “What’s that?”

      "it is"

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Not 100% convinced

    If the need for another, indeed any, live mic as a way to control a computer. I look forward to the day when someone asking 'what's the weather, computer?' will be told 'open the bloody curtains and look outside, you moron!'.

    I have colleagues, and they seem on the whole sane and balanced people, who swear by these things - to the extent of having multiple instances in the same room 'for stereo' - so there must be something in it... but I fear I am not the target audience.

    1. Emir Al Weeq

      Re: Not 100% convinced

      >what's the weather, computer?

      I'd prefer the answer, "It's the prevailing atmospheric conditions, but that's not important right now."

    2. wobbly1

      Re: Not 100% convinced

      I wonder too if there is room for another service , particularly one so limited. , It's more for the data collection to sweeten post loss of licence fee side deals. the rapid price drop and functional advance of edge computing devices means the security leak of voice being sent to remote servers for interpretation and sense can be eliminated. .For those of us living with disabilities , having a voice front end to computer services is invaluable. Before hearing your comment , i had been listening to the weather forecast at the stables later so I wear weather appropriate clothing.

  4. Steve K Silver badge
    WTF?

    Reinventing the wheel with the licence fee?

    I'm not sure why the BBC feel the need to re-invent a wheel here using licence-payer's money?

    Surely this would be better-served by a skill for existing voice services (particularly as they are feeding back data to them anyway) rather than the development/support drag that this will cause.

    Is this because the iPlayer forced sign-in is (via an arbitrary email address not linked to the licence fee number in any way) not providing the level of data to them that they desired as they can't match it to subscribers on their own?

    1. Timmy B Silver badge

      Re: Reinventing the wheel with the licence fee?

      "I'm not sure why the BBC feel the need to re-invent a wheel here using licence-payer's money?"

      Exactly. I can do all the things they suggest and more using just Alexa and amazon devices.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Alexa etc

        I've recently acquired my first Alexa box (the Fire Stick one), on the basis that by now it might be able to do something to justify the money I paid for it. I've already got Chromecast and Roku gadgets, which don't really do anything to justify their existence.

        If I ask Alexa to play BBC 6 Music (it's a radio station), Alexa puts a BBC logo on the TV screeen and plays the station and that's about all it does. Even my actual not-very-smart TV mostly manages to do more than that when playing BBC 6 Music direct from an aerial or via a dish; as well as the logo, there's usually some programme info, for example, and quite often there's some "now playing" info too. Alexa even lacks most of those. Am I holding it wrong or something?

        In general it isn't even as useful (valuable to me) as the BBC Sounds app. Which in turn is nothing like as useful as BBC iPlayer Radio before it was abandoned.

        Why?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Alexa etc

          "Why?"

          To try and get you to use said lacklustre Sounds App instead of the kneecapped Sounds skill on Alexa.

          It won't even play BBC podcasts unless they are on TuneIn etc

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Alexa etc

          Fortunately, the BBC Radio app still works fine if you're outside the UK. ;-)

  5. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "The BBC is selling Beeb as a privacy-friendly option"

    "transcripts will be shared with Microsoft to improve its Azure AI"

    Not quite sure how these two statements can be considered compatible, but maybe I'm missing something.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: "The BBC is selling Beeb as a privacy-friendly option"

      And probably linked to your iPlayer sign-on.

      They missed a trick, they should have called it Auntie Beeb though. Makes a nice change from Big Brother.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "The BBC is selling Beeb as a privacy-friendly option"

      I'm not sure how it can be considered as compatible with being Windows only.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear BBC

    Techno-things I'd probably like you to spend my licence money on might include

    * reviving iPlayer Radio (or equivalent functionality in some other BBC app)

    * platform-independence in apps where possible - I have a variety of media streamers and phones and PCs and yet only on a tiny subset of them can I get anything close to what iPlayer Radio used to offer.

    * Meaningful privacy guarantees, or the DG gets an indefinite seat at a vogon poetry-reading session.

    Yours, A Licence Payer.

    ps

    some news and current affairs coverage outside the M25 congestion zone would be welcome too.

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Dear BBC

      "some news and current affairs coverage outside the M25".

      I disagree. The BBC News website is overloaded with stuff from Wales and Scotland, even though they must surely know that my IP address is in England.

      It is time for the minorities in the Remote West and North to behave like minorities and stop imposing their boring lives on the rest of us.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Dear BBC

        I know, it should never have expanded outside of "London and the Home Counties" in the first place, right?

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Dear BBC

      some news and current affairs coverage

      I assume you're using the terms loosely as the quality of coverage seems to be declining almost while you read. The BBC News website used to be genuinely useful and interesting.

    3. Drat

      Re: Dear BBC

      I agree. Let me paraphrase:

      "Stop doing things you want to do, and start doing things your customers want"

  7. gerdesj Silver badge
    Gimp

    Mockney

    If you are going to mess around with Mockney, for God's sake get the experts onto it: Dick Van Dyke.

  8. heyrick Silver badge

    Beeb can activate itself it if hears something similar

    Oh, you mean like how some Scottish people say the word "head"?

    Good luck with the accents. Britain offers a few that are incomprehensible to meatsacks from other parts of the country. I'd love to observe how an AI copes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beeb can activate itself it if hears something similar

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00hbfjw

  9. MOH

    "The voice assistant will only start when it hears the "OK Beeb" cue. Though the BBC warns that Beeb can activate itself it if hears something similar."

    That's clearly going to cause some problems for Twiki

    1. gerdesj Silver badge
      Alien

      "OK Beeb" not "Whats up Buck?" Besides, Twiki will be an American robot in roughly 500 years time.

  10. P. Lee Silver badge

    While I love cool tech...

    and I do believe we should not abandon all voice recognition to the yanks:

    1. Its cool, but creepy too

    2. I'm going to hazard a guess that this is not a service covered by the BBC's charter.

    3. I'd like to know what their policy is regarding covering regional English accents and non-British languages supported by the BBC.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In "Welsh and Urdu"

    And what is this going to cost the license payer to do it in "Welsh and Urdu".

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