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The Data Lab Launches New BBC Partnership to Develop Voice Assistant Tech

Ross Kelly

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The Data Lab

New forms of conversational AI could significantly enhance audience experiences, the BBC believes.

A new partnership between The Data Lab, the BBC and the University of Glasgow will explore how voice assistant technology can become a socially engaging conversational experience.

In June 2020, the BBC launched its first voice technology assistant, dubbed ‘Beeb’. The national broadcaster hopes the new collaboration will enable it to stay at the forefront of media innovation and enhance audience experience.

Made possible by The Data Lab, the partnership will see scientists from the University of Glasgow’s GRILL Lab share its research with the BBC on how to advance voice assistant technology.

Today, virtual assistants, such as Alexa and Google Assistant, can perform basic single-step tasks like answering questions and playing music.

However, the team at the University of Glasgow, led by Dr Jeff Dalton, is examining new forms of conversational AI that could significantly enhance the capabilities of the technology.

Commenting on the partnership, Dr Dalton said: “I’m excited to be partnering with the BBC and The Data Lab on this ambitious project.

“The BBC is a leader and innovator in Voice and AI media and its archive of content is one of the world’s richest and most widely trusted.

“My team at the University’s GRILL Lab and I are excited to research the future of virtual assistants capable of engaging in social interactions that allow people to discover and engage with that diverse content in fundamentally new ways.”

Chris Dix, head of architecture at BBC, said: “We’ve recently unveiled a first version of our voice assistant, Beeb, and have been exploring the exciting space of conversational AI for three years.

“This new collaboration with The Data Lab and the University of Glasgow gives us an additional way to build our long-term-view of what’s possible in this space.”

Dix added: “We’re particularly interested to explore and help advance cutting-edge research relating to social and task-based conversation, helping us build a truly socially engaging conversational experience that ensures people get the most value from the BBC.”

Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, said: “Conversational AI represents a fascinating and essential evolution for voice assistants. The implications for user experiences and accessibility are far-reaching and it’s fantastic to see Scotland at the forefront of artificial intelligence research once again.

“We’re delighted to be supporting the project and to have facilitated the academic partnership between the BBC and the University of Glasgow.”

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This latest partnership is one of a number announced by The Data Lab in recent months.

In November 2020, the innovation centre revealed a partnership with software startup ENIAN to develop a cost-predicting algorithm aimed at accelerating the uptake of renewable energy sources across the UK.

Alongside the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, the Data Lab will assist Enian in the development and testing of the cost-of-interconnection prediction algorithm (CIPA).

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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