Dialects and Accents as a Challenge for Voice Assistants

Voice assistants often have difficulties with dialects. This was already evident in the case of Siri in 2012. In German-speaking Switzerland, she did not always understand users. There is a similar problem in the UK. Alexa and other voice assistants have trouble understanding the accents there. According to the Guardian, the BBC is preparing to launch a rival to Amazon’s Alexa called Beeb (a nickname for the public service broadcaster, just like “Auntie”). “The voice assistant, which has been created by an in-house BBC team, will be launched next year, with a focus on enabling people to find their favourite programmes and interact with online services. While some US-developed products have struggled to understand strong regional accents, the BBC will … ask staff in offices around the UK to record their voices and make sure the software understands them.” (Guardian, 27 August 2019) Auntie has no plans to develop or offer a physical product such as Amazon’s Echo speaker or a Google Home device. Instead, the Beeb software will be built into the BBC online services. It remains to be seen whether this will solve all problems of comprehension.