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Why is Siri female (in the US at least)?

Steve Sande, @stevensande
November 8, 2011
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Have you ever wondered why most of the default voices for computers are female? Although Siri is male in the UK and France, it's female in the U.S., Australia, and Germany. CNN's Brandon Griggs pondered this question in a post last month, and found that -- among other things -- people find women's voices more pleasing than men's.

Griggs quoted Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass, author of a book about human-machine relationships, as saying "It's much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes. It's a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices."

According to Nass, this preference starts in the womb, as fetuses react to the sound of their mother's voice but not to other female voices or their father's voices. Another reason could be that telephone operators have traditionally been female, so people are used to getting assistance from a woman's voice -- realizing that certain age iPhone users and younger may have never heard a real, live telephone operator.

There are other theories. Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies Inc. believes that tech companies try to stay away from the sound of male computer voices due to the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL's soothing male voice didn't cover the fact that he was insane and intent on killing his human crew mates.

The post goes on to state that many experts expect that Siri will come with a choice of voices, accents and genders someday, so that if you're a little peeved with "her" voice right now, you can replace it with a voice more to your liking.

Speech technology firm Nuance's director of advanced speech design thinks that in the future there's a "huge opportunity for personalization. I could have an approximation of my wife's voice read me a text message in my car."

In this article: cnn, HAL 9000, Hal9000, iPhone, siri, voices
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