Research & Development

Posted by BBC Research and Development on , last updated

There’s been a whole lot of collaboration going on across the three teams in IRFS these past weeks - between our teams, with other sections in R&D and beyond

Last week two of our teams, Internet & Society and the Recs group in the Data Team, worked together on a design sprint using iPlayer recommendations to understand and control machine learning. Recommendations are playing an increasingly important role in most people’s media consumption, but most of us have no idea how those recommendations came to be selected (or indeed how recommender systems work). This is not just true for the general public, many editorial staff within organisations like the BBC are flying blind when it comes to understanding how the tools they’re using work. So the Data Team and I&S have been working together to come up with ways to solve this knowledge gap, looking at if and how we can help editorial members of the iPlayer team get a holistic view of the impact of different recommendations strategies on different types of audiences.

A visualisation of how an iPlayer recommendation system works.

At the start of the sprint they heard from various members of the iPlayer team about their problems and how they work, and then David ran some exercises for us to think about some creative solutions. We're just finishing off some prototypes to show some of the ideas in practice. The work builds on I&S’s related work around understanding machine learning in the context of images (bird identification) and music (BBC Introducing), as mentioned in the last weeknotes, as well as the Data team’s long experience with recommendations across the BBC.

Speaking of the Data team, Kristine and Ben are joining them after this week - Kristine's research interests are closer to the Data team's and she'll get lots of help there; it's great for Ben to get more expertise in different teams as part of his Industrial placement. They’ll be joining the Recommendations group and the Data Team are all really looking forward to working with them. I&S will still see them in the daily Zoom hellos! We also lose Jess this week - her one-year placement is at an end, and she's off to iPlayer. So many congratulations to Jess, but also sadness in losing such a talented member of the team.

In other work, the Data Team’s speech-to-text group have started retraining the acoustic model of our BBC Speech-to-text system with an improved training dataset. They have also been developing a toolkit to enable downloading of custom datasets from AudioSet, a large-scale dataset of manually annotated audio events published by Google. The Sentiment team have been finalising contract issues and prepping for their upcoming user trial, the DSRP team have organising various meetings with university partners and legal teams in order to start to release more data and the NLP group have been exploring the use of Transformers in their Vox tool, which helps identify offensive comments in forum posts.

The Interaction & Prototyping team have been doing a lot of collaboration too. Henry and Miranda have been working with colleagues from other sections to run a practical R&D strand of workshops for Festival UK 2022’s Creative Studio. F22 aims to be a collection of ten large-scale, public engagement projects that will showcase the UK's creativity and innovation launched in 2022. The program has started with a call to industry, academia and the creative world to come together. 30 teams with some hugely diverse and impressive individuals and organisations have now assembled and our role has been to introduce the team's to some critical innovation process, guiding them to stretch their ideas into new territories, perhaps using frameworks such as R&D's Human Values.

Elsewhere in the team, Andrew and Mathieu have spent this time refining their prototype for the Multi-Screen, Multi-User work we alluded to in previous week notes. The aim is to explore multi-screen interaction, initially through the lens of board games. They're now using their hypotheses to create some testing methodologies that we hope to be able to execute in the near future. Anthony's work on the collaboration project with our colleagues across D+E continue's with their testing being slowed somewhat due to the rolling changes of restrictions across the country (sigh). They hope to do some in-house testing with BBC staff and their families between now and the early part of 2021.

Finally Barbara and Ant have been involved in a workshop looking at what the future of in-car entertainment might look like, and the whole team participated in a fantastic sustainability day within R&D, looking at the impact of our work across a wide range of areas through the lens of sustainability and lifecycle assessment.