You may soon be able to control BBC iPlayer with your voice
James R | On 04, Aug 2017
You may soon be able to control BBC iPlayer with your voice, judging by new tests undertaken by the BBC.
The Beeb has worked with Microsoft to build an experimental version of the catch-up service that uses artificial intelligence to allow individuals to sign in to BBC services using their voice, before talking to their TV to pick what to watch.
From Knight Rider to Iron Man, the idea of being able to talk to computers and for them to be able to understand who we are as individuals has been a science fiction fascination for decades, says Cyrus Saihan, BBC’s Head of Digital Partnerships.
“We may not be at JARVIS levels of artificial intelligence just yet, but artificial intelligence and voice interaction are fast-developing technologies that are already available to consumers,” he writes in a blog post detailing the tests. “These technologies could also have interesting use-cases in TV so for our experiment, we wanted to explore how your TV – just by hearing the unique sound of your voice – could give people a more intuitive and more personal service in the future.”
Indeed, smart home assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are already prominent features to many UK living rooms, with streaming devices Fire TV and Chromecast both connecting with them to allow searching for films and TV shows by voice. BBC iPlayer’s support of such functionality would be a natural next step, as the catch-up service seeks to keep itself competitive with its rivals. Adding support for Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri and other third party platforms, though, may prove a more efficient move.
Any voice-controlled iPlayer, though, is likely to be a fairly long way into the future.
“What we have built here is only a proof of concept and we are still at the very early stages for voice interfaces,” explains Saihan. “Our experiment focussed on getting the basics right – creating a working internal prototype that allows you to sign in using your voiceprint. Once signed in, you can see all of the editorially curated programmes and personalised recommendations that you normally would.”
The potential, nonetheless, is exciting.
“As well as letting a user sign in to BBC services using their unique voice instead of a password, our internal prototype also gives a user the option to select what they want to watch by talking to their device,” continues Saihan. “For example, saying “BBC… show me something funny” brings up a selection of comedy programmes. If you say “BBC…what’s going on in the world?” the BBC News channel turns on and starts playing. Saying “BBC… put Eastenders on for me” starts playing the latest episode.
“There could be interesting scenarios in a typical family setting too. Just by listening to the voices in the room, your TV could automatically detect when there are multiple people in the living room, and serve up a personalised mix of content relevant to all of you in the room. When your children leave the room to go to bed, BBC iPlayer might hear that the children are no longer there and then suggest a different selection of content for you and your partner. All of this personalisation could happen without anyone having to press a button, sign in and out or change user profiles.”