BBC is trialling an AI that lets you control iPlayer with your voice

Shouting at the TV might actually have some effect in future as the BBC has been working with Microsoft to develop an experimental version of iPlayer with voice control.

The artificial intelligence-based system uses a ‘voiceprint’ to allow people to log into their accounts and find programmes just by speaking. A voiceprint is a digitally recorded sample of a person’s voice to be used as identification, just like a fingerprint.

The AI compares the tone, modulation and pitch of the person’s voice to a sample that they have previously uploaded to the cloud, replacing the need to type in a password. The streaming service doesn’t currently require a password, but it will soon and the BBC is already encouraging people to sign up in preparation for the change. The BBC first announced the introduction of the mandatory logins last year.

Once logged in, the experimental service allows people to find programmes using voice commands like “BBC, put EastEnders on for me” or the alarmingly vague “BBC, show me something funny”.

While very much still at the concept stage, the technology could eventually revolutionize the way we watch TV.

 “The ability of humans to communicate with each other by talking is one of our species’ most unique traits,” said BBC Head of Digital Partnerships, Cyrus Saihan, in a blog post. “As the technology around us continues to evolve, it is interesting to consider how we might soon be talking naturally with the range of digital devices that have become such an important part of everyday life for many.

With voice controlled interfaces such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana starting to gain popularity, there is a good chance that in some situations, speaking to a computer will be the main way that we interact with many of our digital devices”.

Eventually, AI and machine learning could to a much more conversational interface for TVs with even more personalised options, predicts Saihan.

If we look further into the future, when artificial intelligence and machine learning have advanced sufficiently, you could end up in a conversation with your TV about what’s available to watch now, whether you like the sound of it or not, whether there’s something coming up that you’re interested in, and what you like to watch when you’re in a certain mood,” he says. “All the time, your TV service would be learning about your preferences and getting smarter about what to suggest and when”.

In future, it could provide a personalised service by hearing who is in the room, explains a BBC video. If the TV detected a person and their partner in the room, it might suggest their favourite show, while if it heard a child it could suggest some more kid-friendly choices, and switch back to something unsuitable for younger viewers if it hears that they’ve gone to bed.

While the voice-controlled iPlayer remains an internal BBC project at present, it provides a tantalising glimpse of what we can expect to see in future as voice control appears on more services.

Like most major tech firms, Microsoft is gradually expanding its AI efforts and last year, it created a new AI and Research Group staffed by more than 5,000 computer scientists and engineers.

“Microsoft has been working in artificial intelligence since the beginning of Microsoft Research, and yet we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible,” said Harry Shum, executive vice president of the Microsoft AI and Research Group.

Image: BBC

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