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The BBC is working on an Alexa rival that better understands British accents

The Queen’s English is the British accent we Americans are accustomed to hearing, thanks mainly to the royal family. But that’s not how all British people speak. Some speak a far more accented English, so much so that virtual assistants may not be able to understand them. The BBC has a solution, and it’s called “Beeb.”

Beeb will launch next year as a virtual assistant to help navigate BBC online services. As part of the effort to make Beeb the best it can be, BBC developers are asking employees around the U.K. this week to test out the software to ensure it works.

While it will understand a wide array of British dialects, it likely will only be voiced by a single individual. So the Queen’s English will probably still reign.

Calling it a “rival” to Alexa may be a bit generous, though. It wouldn’t take the shape of a TARDIS on your desk (I kid, I kid) or a speaker like Echo or Google Home. BBC instead hopes to offer it to manufacturers who provide BBC software on their devices, as well as its websites and the iPlayer app.

It also won’t offer the functionality of Alexa or Google Home, but it will have a wake word: “Beeb.” Why Beeb? Most likely, it’s the word’s familiarity among the British — the term’s been used for decades as a nickname for the broadcaster.

The efforts to create an in-house virtual assistant likely are part of a broader strategy to collect more data on listeners and viewers. It recently ended a partnership with TuneIn over the company’s refusal to provide information on who was listening to BBC content.

The BBC will also be able to experiment with new features and programs without having to build the virtual assistant a certain way, a spokesperson said. The BBC did not specify how it would use the data collected, especially the queries of any future users. That is a growing point of concern for privacy advocates, with Amazon, Apple, Google, and even Microsoft all in the spotlight for how they are listening in on users of their virtual assistants.

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Ed Oswald
For fifteen years, Ed has written about the latest and greatest in gadgets and technology trends. At Digital Trends, he's…
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