Behind every voice assistant is a human being. Sometimes a whole lot of them.
Gary Waterhouse of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Deb Adeogba and Krishnan Ranganathan of Microsoft are just some of the core people behind Beeb, the new voice assistant from the BBC. Originally a limited-release Beta tested by Windows Insiders, Beeb became available Beta-GA in November in the MS Store.
As audience numbers has shown, keeping up with the news is more vital than ever. The BBC wanted to build a voice assistant dedicated to providing the UK public with unfettered access to its unique library of content, programmes and services. One-in-five adults has a smart speaker in their home and a voice-activated device in their pocket, so having a trusted helper to fetch news and information is a must. While a simple command (“OK Beeb, update me”) will deliver the latest news, Beeb can also fetch specific radio programmes and podcasts, and offer weather updates. The assistant’s talents are not restricted to news and information, however, as Beeb can tell a joke and even rap.
THE GARDENER, THE GAMER, THE GO-GETTER
In normal times, getting the world’s first public service voice assistant to this stage would take months of collaboration, lots of paperwork and not a small amount of beer. But these are not normal times.
Remote work was always a hallmark of the partnership among Waterhouse, Adeogba and Ranganathan.
Waterhouse worked on the commercial side of the BBC (BBC Worldwide and Corporate Systems Portfolio) for nearly five years but, hankering for a new challenge, headed over to the public service arm as soon as he heard about the opportunity on the Voice and AI team.
Adeogba was also new to her role when they met. She had worked in broadcast journalism in markets small and large for 20 years before she jumped at the opportunity to work on innovations with the Microsoft News Labs team. Developing a helper for Auntie – as the BBC is sometimes called – was her first major project at Microsoft. “Every moment was a learning moment,” she recalls.