Why Do So Many Robots Have A Woman's Voice?


Ever wonder why so many automated voices—think the iPhone’s Siri, your GPS lady, the woman who gives you your voicemail—are female? NPR’s Scott Simon did a little digging into this topic, and the consensus seems to be that women’s voices are used because they’re perceived as being more comforting. As one expert put it,

“[H]umans develop an affinity for female voices that begins when we overhear our mothers speaking while we wait in their wombs.”

OK, sure, that sounds reasonable. But are we really looking to these robots to comfort us? It seems more like we just want to bark orders at them and have them tell us what to do—which, come to think of it, is not that far off from how some of us treat our mothers. So maybe this does all makes sense. But it turns out that it’s not just that women’s voices are good; it’s that men’s voices have a bad connotation for many of us. Seriously. Companies have shied away from using automated men’s voices because HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey creeped everyone out. Whoa. That seems a little unfair.

In the name of equality, it’s probably time we got over HAL and start using more male automatons. I mean, if Jon Hamm’s silky smooth voice is good enough to sell us a Mercedes, shouldn’t it be good enough to tell us to turn left in a quarter mile? Actually, yes, that is exactly what we need: somebody out there should make an app to replace Siri’s voice with celebrity voices! Can you imagine? “Siri, turn into Ryan Gosling for a second. I want him to tell me what he’s wearing.” Oh, and Siri, put Brian Williams on. I need him to remind me that I have a gynecologist appointment at 3pm. Oops! Nevermind, it just became very clear why this is a bad idea. Maybe it is better if Siri is just a neutral, helpful acquaintance who reminds you of your mother, if your mother was the sort of person who could calmly tell you where the closest place to buy condoms is at 2am on a Tuesday.

It’s A Girl! The New iPhone Speaks [NPR]

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