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October 21, 2011 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Why are computer voices mostly female? Apple's 1987 vision of a computerized personal assistant was originally male. Siri's voice is female in the US and Australia, but male in the UK and France.

One theory is that a male voice would remind too many people of HAL 9000.

[In] an interview with one of Siri's early backers, Shawn Carolan ...he says that originally the inventors had tried to secure a URL for HAL, but when that was unavailable, they turned to Siri, which is a Norwegian woman's name. Carolan says, "Personally, I'm glad it was Siri. Hal may have been too [ominous] a persona."
posted by flex (81 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The "You've Got Mail" guy of the nineties reads this piece, shakes his head, stubs out his cigarette and shuffles slowly to the unemployment office.
posted by mreleganza at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2011 [24 favorites]


I mentioned this in a recent ask thread about clocks, but one of my grandma's favorite things in the world is a decades-old talking clock cube. It's got a little button on it, and when you press it, a nice, masculine computer voice tells you the time, date, and weather. It also automatically sounds off every hour. When we were little, my grandma would tease us whenever it'd start talking that she had a tiny man that she kept prisoner in a box in the living room. Good stuff. Because of those memories, I'm always going to vote for the male computer voice.
posted by phunniemee at 12:02 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Engineering-wise, I thought it had something to do with the a higher pitch taking less bandwidth and resources. [citation needed]
posted by drowsy at 12:06 PM on October 21, 2011


My grandmother had a talking car in the late 80s/early 90s that would say "Your door is ajar" and other various, non-helpful messages that used to be done by beeping or blinking noises; we thought it was cool as shit but dude was an ASSHOLE!

I can't watch all of the videos here, so I apologize if this point is made within the contents of the post, but my immediate thought about the difference between the idea of a computer's voice in 1987 and now would be that those involved in it now grew up with Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's voice in the Star Trek universe and just can't think of a talking/listening computer any other way.

Related, Computer Voice tvtrope page, which is divided into Feminine Voice Examples, Masculine Voice Examples, and Neuter/Other.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:06 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised they didn't mention Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the voice of the Star Trek Enterprise computer. Because of that cultural association computer voices seem like they should always be female.
posted by jasper411 at 12:06 PM on October 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


The "You've Got Mail" guy of the nineties reads this piece

His name is Elwood Edwards, and according to this 13 year-old Fast Company article, he's the voice of the net generation.

Which makes me think that Portal would be awful if he were the voice of GLaDOS. Sorry Elwood.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:07 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


You can stick your theory where the monolith don't shine.
posted by hal9k at 12:09 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


It took me awhile to figure out that the childlike voice they used on the Furby is gender-neutral. Since their names weren't common human names (Coco, Filmo, Kaykay, etc.), people heard whatever gender they wanted.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:11 PM on October 21, 2011


On the MAX (light rail system) in Portland, OR, the station announcements in English are female but the Spanish announcements are male. For some reason the buses are all male. I've always sort of wondered why that is.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 12:15 PM on October 21, 2011


The voice on my car's nav system is female. Her name is Garmin, and I HATE HER SO FUCKING MUCH!
posted by crunchland at 12:16 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


As soon as I read most computer voices are female, I immediately thought, "well yeah, they don't want it to sound like HAL" - but I'm kind of shocked that that actually might have been have a real reason.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:18 PM on October 21, 2011


Siri's voice is also female in German (and maybe it's just me but I find its German voice a lot more natural-sounding than the other voices).
posted by jedicus at 12:19 PM on October 21, 2011


I find female voices easier to understand. Higher pitched sounds cut through real-world noise like rumble, hum, buffeting wind, and conversation. So for that reason, I'll always use the female voice.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:19 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't know if it's culture or biology, but when appliances talk with male voices they do tend to sound like bossy authority figures. In some cultures (like the German BMW drivers in the first link) that may be comforting, but for the rest of us it's usually an irritation. Female voices may speak with the same mechanical confidence as the male ones, but they sound more friendly than bossy.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:20 PM on October 21, 2011


Hm. Back in the day I worked on Microsoft Bookshelf and Encarta a bit, and as I recall we used male voices for the pronunciations and such because they compressed far better than female voices. I don't think I have that backwards.
posted by maxwelton at 12:20 PM on October 21, 2011


Engineering-wise, I thought it had something to do with the a higher pitch taking less bandwidth and resources. [citation needed]

EE here....

Uh...no, quite the opposite in facts. A lower pitch could be sampled at a lower rate which would save on resources.

See...Nyquist frequency
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:22 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


MCMikeNamara: "My grandmother had a talking car in the late 80s/early 90s that would say "Your door is ajar" and other various, non-helpful messages that used to be done by beeping or blinking noise"

Those voice messages were meant for old people who couldn't tell their door was ajar and shouldn't have been driving in the first place.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:22 PM on October 21, 2011


No mention of the computer voices in "Alien" or "The Andromeda Strain".
The "Star Trek" computer is mentioned in passing, even though Majel Barrett isn't mentioned by name.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:23 PM on October 21, 2011


I'm surprised they didn't mention Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the voice of the Star Trek Enterprise computer. Because of that cultural association computer voices seem like they should always be female.

More specifically, Mirror, Mirror taught us that in the evil mirror universe the computer has a male voice. HAL drove home the lesson a year later.

And to back up seanmpuckett, I recall seeing a TV piece on synthesized voices decades ago that stated that the timbre of female voices cuts through background noise better.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:24 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


A lot of unfortunate cultural stereotypes are involved in the choice of voice gender for a computer. I get that; it's frustrating, but there are only so many feminist battles I'm prepared to fight, you know?

But on a related tangent, I've seen the Siri ad on TV several times, and here is what strikes me: all the people are shown from about jaw to elbow, basically just their torsos in frame. At least half of the people are female. (Maybe more - I haven't counted.)

What's astounding about the ad is that it doesn't emphasize the women's breasts.

Most of the women are of average breast size (i.e. not the gigantic melon tits you often see on TV), and most of them have a high neckline and their shirts arranged so that their breasts aren't really visible. It's not prim, it's just framed so that the camera isn't staring at boobs the whole time.

This may be the first TV ad in history that doesn't use the male gaze. I was blown away when I realized it. Go, Apple!
posted by ErikaB at 12:25 PM on October 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


I have read, though I cannot provide a citation, that GPS manufacturers did studies on this issue and concluded that women tended to be open to getting directions from male or female voices, while men strongly preferred getting directions from female voices. Apparently men were used to women telling them what to do, but reacted negatively to being bossed around by another man in their car. Strange stuff.
posted by zachlipton at 12:26 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find female voices far more soothing than male voices and much easier to understand and TOLERATE than male voices on electronic devices, ie, the difference between me calling my Garmin a bitch and throwing my Garmin out the window. Female voice is a big value add in that case.
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:27 PM on October 21, 2011


Here's the ad.
posted by ErikaB at 12:27 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Higher pitched voices are easier to hear against background noise and sound better on small tinny speakers.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:34 PM on October 21, 2011


Interesting fact: All of the "informative" messages in the New York City subway system are female (you've arrived at so and so station, etc), and all of the commands (Stand Clear of the Closing Door) are male. The theory being that people are more likely to respond to commands given by a strong male voice.

I think that all of the voices were done pro bono by actors that work for the Bloomberg News Organization.
posted by the theory of revolution at 12:34 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I linked it without fully reading the introduction, but having done so, I think the related TV Tropes page's introduction makes some awesome points, so I'm going to post it here (despite it being full of tropespeak, I also know that some people avoid the place because it's the tar pit of time suck)

In Speculative Fiction, computers can speak. It certainly beats having the audience read a computer screen. Most of the time the voice is female (theories on why vary, see below) to emphasize the "otherness" of the A.I.'s nature, but there are many examples of male and gender neutral synthesized voices. Generally, they all carry a pleasant (if somewhat dull) monotone. If it should ever become (or started out with) a Creepy Monotone, watch out.

The gender will vary depending on the intentions of the computer. If it is designed to be utilitarian, military like, then it will be male. If it is supposed to be very user friendly for the tech-ignorant, then it will be female. The Star Trek franchise even shows this evolution: in the original series the female voice was always used when accessing encyclopedic information. The movies were more military-like, so it used a male voice. The Next Generation era computers were simply the most user friendly computer possible short of reading your thoughts.

This has been referred to as the most common sci-fi female character archetype. That is, since Most Writers Are Male, and the Sci Fi Ghetto is particularly associated with male fans, there are a disproportionate number of male characters but somehow the idea of the female computer has gotten lodged into the collective unconscious. Probably not coincidentally, these A.I.'s will have long, largely nonsensical descriptions whose acronyms 'just happen' to spell feminine names. For example, the Computer-Human Liaison Officer Executable, or CHLOE for short.

It's a bit deeper than a simple case of Most Writers Are Male. On a primitive level, a sudden unfamiliar female voice doesn't register as a physical threat, whereas a deep male voice does. That's why male voices in interface systems tend to be higher-pitched rather than in the James Earl Jones registers. They aren't as off-putting.

The tendency toward female voices may stem from Real Life: Companies initially hired teenage boys as telephone operators, but by 1900 the vast majority of them were female. Not only were the voices soothing, but the women tended not to be, well, hormonal balls of rage. It is also possible that the ability to pay women less than men was another added benefit.

Also worth mentioning: the naval tradition of giving ships feminine names, as well as giving abstract ideas a female Anthropomorphic Personification (Reason, Liberty, Justice, Rumor, the goddess of wisdom, etc.) is very, very old. Stands to reason it would extend to giving spaceships female names, and since the computer is the "brain" of the ship...


Not sure I agree with everything in it -- and obviously the original article is about the real world and this is about fiction; however, on this particular point, I'm not sure that makes much of a difference.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:36 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting fact: All of the "informative" messages in the New York City subway system are female (you've arrived at so and so station, etc), and all of the commands (Stand Clear of the Closing Door) are male. The theory being that people are more likely to respond to commands given by a strong male voice.

And they're all in this incredibly white, accentless voice. I think it should change based on what neighborhood the stop's in.
posted by jonmc at 12:38 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


like the German BMW drivers in the first link

That story has gotta be bullshit. The sole source appears to be Clifford Nass himself, who's apparently been repeating it for years, without any citations.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:40 PM on October 21, 2011


Does anyone know if machines use male or female voices in Southeast Asia? That might shed some light on if this is a cultural thing.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:41 PM on October 21, 2011


I'm really pleased to see that Majel Barrett-Roddenberry is getting some appreciation in this thread. As far as I'm concerned hers is the archetypical (non-threatening) computer voice.

I agree that "not sounding like HAL" could be a good reason to avoid male voices, but I wonder if GLaDOS isn't just as notorious as him at this point. Portal is huge among games. I'm sure gamers amount to a smaller population than filmgoers, but heck — 2001 was released 43 years ago. How many tech-savvy people these days are as familiar with "Daisy, Daisy" as they are with "the cake is a lie?" Seriously. I would think that would swing the pendulum in the other direction.

As far as natural-sounding machine voices are concerned, I haven't found a better one than IVONA's Brian. Choose "British English, Brian" from the menu and enter some text to hear him. It's nearly perfect. In a few more years voice actors will be obsolete.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:42 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel like I've read somewhere (having trouble finding it now, of course) that when they were designing audio warnings for pilots back ... when that first started happening, they used female voices because they were easier to understand when generated artificially. You know: DING DING DING PULL UP.

I used to like playing around with text-to-speech synthesis and I seem to remember this was something that came up a lot in the consumer-end versions of that early software, too. For some reason people respond better (or can understand more clearly) female artificial-generated voices than male artificial-generated voices. I don't know if it's true of female and male live-action voices.

On research: haha! Apparently her name is Bitching Betty!
posted by penduluum at 12:42 PM on October 21, 2011


Worth mentioning that the original Star Trek chose female voices after consultation with the USAF. As long ago as the early 60's, the Air Force was using female voices for automated alerts in the cockpit and was doing so for many of the reasons mentioned in this thread.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:44 PM on October 21, 2011


Can the user change it in the settings?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:46 PM on October 21, 2011


Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's voice in the Star Trek universe

I would pay $100 to have Siri speak to me in her voice. There have got to be enough clips of her speaking in her beguiling computer-voice to synthesize what they need...
posted by Dasein at 12:46 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here are 5 guys in a limo who could say a thing or two about voiceover popularity.
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:47 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


If Siri was male, and you are driving and ask for directions, then [he] would not bother going out on the web to get directions, but rather just guess and direct you with an authoritative voice, getting you hopelessly lost.

(I heard this somewhere, can't claim credit or blame for it, but thought that it was very apt.)
posted by Danf at 12:49 PM on October 21, 2011


They make it not sound like HAL 9000 to prevent me from making out with it.
...
Oh my, too much fanfiction.
posted by Theta States at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would pay $5,000 dollars to have a GPS navigator that spoke like Sulu. I don't even have a car.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:56 PM on October 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


On every GPS or other device that speaks to me, I always choose the female voice, and if given the option, I always go for British pronunciation.

There is probably a whole case study to explain why I find this more comfortable than the other choices, but my best guess is that 1.) I think it's kind of sexy sounding, and 2.) it gives me the opportunity to refer to it as "Moneypenny" when I'm chastising at it for giving me bad directions or thanking it for getting me un-lost.

That being said, if I could have any voice issue forth from an electronic device to tell me what to do, Gina Torres would be high on the list. Her voice is just wonderful to listen to.
posted by quin at 12:58 PM on October 21, 2011


I always just assumed that programmers were trying to simulate a different life that included a sexxxy secretary.
posted by SharkParty at 12:58 PM on October 21, 2011


What's astounding about the ad is that it doesn't emphasize the women's breasts.

I think we've officially reached the bottom of the Apple barrel. We're seriously congratulating these people for their accomplishments in filming tits now?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:59 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


My grandmother had a talking car in the late 80s/early 90s that would say "Your door is ajar" and other various, non-helpful messages that used to be done by beeping or blinking noises; we thought it was cool as shit but dude was an ASSHOLE!

APOLOGIZE TO THE CAR.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:59 PM on October 21, 2011


I always just assumed that programmers were trying to simulate a different life that included a sexxxy secretary.

Occam's Razor dictates that you sir are correct.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:00 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


With regards to why certain messages are voiced by males and others by females, MTA spokesperson Gene Sansone said in 2006 that, "Most of the orders are given by a male voice, while informational messages come from females. Even though this happened by accident, it is a lucky thing because a lot of psychologists agree that people are more receptive to orders from men and information from women".

(Wikipedia)

posted by monospace at 1:03 PM on October 21, 2011


Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's voice in the Star Trek universe

I would pay $100 to have Siri speak to me in her voice. There have got to be enough clips of her speaking in her beguiling computer-voice to synthesize what they need...


I've mentioned this here before, but Majel Barrett is the voice of the defect detector on various Union Pacific tracks west of the Mississippi. I hear her on the conductor's radio from Oakland to Richmond, and then again just after Martinez, all the way to Davis. It is actually sort of soothing.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:05 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


What, no mention of Red Dwarf's Holly, who underwent a "head sex change"?
posted by smcameron at 1:12 PM on October 21, 2011


Why are computer voices mostly female?

Same reason women appear on the covers of men's and women's magazines so much more often than men do. Men and women like to look at attractive women.* Similarly, people like to listen to pleasant female voices.

* My theory is that this explains why anyone who says they're bisexual is assumed to actually be attracted only to men; that is, bisexual women are thought to be actually straight, while bisexual men are thought to be actually gay. A man being attracted to men is seen as more in need of an explanation for why he deviates from the heterosexual norm, and the explanation ends up being that he's gay. In contrast, a woman expressing an attraction to women doesn't raise eyebrows, since everyone finds women attractive. I don't agree with these views, just saying they might account for why these strange reactions to bisexuality are so common.
posted by John Cohen at 1:15 PM on October 21, 2011


Holly is a character on the show, so I wouldn't say he (or she) is typical of machine interfaces. It's supposed to be funny.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:16 PM on October 21, 2011


Kevin Spacey should also be remembered for his work as the robot GERTY in Moon (warning: spoilerific scene!). Just the right about of tension between ominous and sympathetic. It's an excellent neutral that serves the drama well, always keeping you guessing the machine's true motives. The physical design of the robot and the way it interacts with the surrounding environment is worth noting, too.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:17 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mind the gap!
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:25 PM on October 21, 2011


At Clapham Junction, a male voice announces trains on odd* platforms and a female voice does even ones, so that you can pay attention easily to the platform you're on. (Two identical voices at the same volume would be confusing.)

On the Madrid metro, a male voice says "Próxima estación:" and a female voice chips in with the station name, which is adorable team work.



*approximately
posted by doiheartwentyone at 1:31 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can the user change it in the settings?
Yeah, I am surprised there isn't an option to change it.
posted by soelo at 1:32 PM on October 21, 2011


Everyone is assuming "male voice = lower pitch". I would like to have my computer speak with David Sedaris's voice.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:38 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Gros crisse de tas d'marde"
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:38 PM on October 21, 2011


I would like to have my computer speak with David Sedaris's voice.

Or Woody Allen, circa 1972.
posted by Grangousier at 1:41 PM on October 21, 2011


benito.strauss: Everyone is assuming "male voice = lower pitch". I would like to have my computer speak with David Sedaris's voice.

Interestingly, everything should happen in David Sedaris' voice... it would enrich us all.
posted by gilrain at 1:47 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Any love for The Talking Moose? He was my first experience with a talking computer interface when I was 8. To this day I still hear certain things in his voice. (Emmmpty Trash. Boooo-da-pest. Zapf Chan-cer-ee! BUD-GET.)
posted by bleep at 1:48 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


jedicus: "Siri's voice is also female in German (and maybe it's just me but I find its German voice a lot more natural-sounding than the other voices)"

That's because German is the precise, measured language of the Mensch-Maschine.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:55 PM on October 21, 2011


One GPS unit's voice talked me across upstate New York during a blizzard. I drove for hours in the dark, and feel a bit in love with her.
posted by doctornemo at 2:03 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sydney CityRail announcements are done by Taylor Owynns, a voice actor chiefly known for her work in Bananas in Pyjamas. I find it helps to endure train delays when you can imagine they're being announced by an enormous anthropomorphic teddy bear.
posted by zamboni at 2:03 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel like I've read somewhere (having trouble finding it now, of course) that when they were designing audio warnings for pilots back ... when that first started happening, they used female voices because they were easier to understand when generated artificially.

Years ago, there was a show on top guns and this very point was made. IIRC it had to do with the fact that they tested both male and female voices and the pilots were more responsive to the female voice. Of course that may have something to do with the pilots mostly being male.

I know it's not as exciting as thinking about all the sci-fi reasons, but god forbid they actually, ya' know, test these things before they implement them.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:06 PM on October 21, 2011


Siri's voice should be female because Siri is a female name.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:09 PM on October 21, 2011


Tell a police ah-fficer or an Apple store emploh-ee. Remain alert! and have a safe day.
posted by gubo at 2:25 PM on October 21, 2011


Speech synthesis is at its nadir on the London Underground, where the (female) voice hasn't been programmed to inflect 'ladies and gentleman' correctly ('ladies-and GENtle-MEN') - even though they're the three words that are in every single thing it says. Makes my teeth grind just thinking about it.
posted by sleepcrime at 3:50 PM on October 21, 2011


There was a while there when the people mover at Atlanta's airport sounded just like a Cylon. Boy, that didn't make me want to return to Atlanta.
posted by newdaddy at 4:04 PM on October 21, 2011


I'm going to suggest that it's because the first talking computers were spaceships, and a spaceship is just a space version of a ship, and ships, as we all know, are always referred to as a "she".

You know that parable about the space shuttle design being based on the width of a horse's ass? Maybe we can finagle a similar story here?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:28 PM on October 21, 2011


My wife did her Master's thesis in linguistics on social speech preferences. She controlled for gender by using one voice and then altering it with signal processing and the like to make it sound older/younger, male/female, foreign/native, etc. I can't remember many of her conclusions except that slow speech… and low pitch speech were invariably considered by respondents to be spoken by a stupid person.
posted by readyfreddy at 5:32 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The voice on my car's nav system is female. Her name is Garmin, and I HATE HER SO FUCKING MUCH!
posted by crunchland


My neighbor and her husband call their's "the bossy bitch". After being told repeatedly to turn around and go back to take a winding route through a subdivision that has a chain across the connection to road I needed to be on, we have also started calling ours that.
posted by 445supermag at 5:34 PM on October 21, 2011


You'd expect some synthetic Peachtree girl to be all "Y'all come back now, y'hear?". But no. Instead, "By your command - doors opening on the left."
posted by newdaddy at 6:08 PM on October 21, 2011


Engineering-wise, I thought it had something to do with the a higher pitch taking less bandwidth and resources. [citation needed]
That is completely ridiculous. In pure technical terms lower pitch requires a lower sampling rate overall, so lower bandwidth audio feeds preserve base better then treble. But the other thing is that there is way more then enough bandwidth for voice on a phone in the first place and it's likely that the audio is being generated on the phone anyway, with just the text being sent back by the server.

The reason is mostly just historical. Back in the 60s it was assumed that astronauts (who were all going to be men, of course) would pay more attention to a female voice. It was a pretty sexist assumption, but since then we've had 'computer voices' being female in sci-fi for a long time.

I'm surprised siri doesn't come with selection of different voices/accents. People would probably screw around and set it to use some goofy sweedish accent or something.
posted by delmoi at 6:50 PM on October 21, 2011


I could see if it was something like since it would be all male voices speaking in cockpit a female voice would be immediately recognized as the computer while a male voice would just kind of blend in if they were all talking at once. Sexist but probably realistic at the time.
posted by bleep at 6:55 PM on October 21, 2011


I'm surprised siri doesn't come with selection of different voices/accents.

This is an Apple product; why are you surprised?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:01 PM on October 21, 2011


Actually delmoi, it makes sense. The high frequency component of speech is consonants, which are about as high for males and females (and you can understand them pretty well even if you cut them at 3.5 kHz -- like on a digital phone line with an 8 kHz sampling rate). The low frequency component is formed by the vowels. The lower your pitch, the lower the min frequency, hence the wider the band you need to reproduce. Of course for the electronic element of a modern speech system this is irrelevant -- a baritone is just as easy to reproduce as a soprano. But for the electromechanical parts, it matters: making compact speakers (such as those in your phone) that can reproduce low-frequencies at relatively high levels is still quite a technical challenge.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:12 PM on October 21, 2011


Right... higher pitch needs smaller speakers, but that has nothing to do with 'bandwidth' or 'resources'
posted by delmoi at 7:34 PM on October 21, 2011


I had a no-name GPS long ago (Pharos) that had a very pleasant, sweet voice and its instructions never seemed bossy. The only exception was when I somehow ended up on a road that ended at a cliff high above the ocean, whereby she said, bluntly, "Turn around!" My kids started laughing hysterically--apparently my driving was so bad that even the nice GPS lady got mad at me.

Unfortunately the maps and instructions were awful (in my opinion), so I updated to a Magellan. The voice was also female, but instead of the pleasant voice it was a voice of an angry chain-smoking woman who had a hard, miserable life. My kids actually mourned the old GPS, as though a favorite aunt had passed away.

I now realize that this ugly sounding voice is the norm, and that Pharos produced something really exceptional, within their otherwise outdated GPS.

There's a lesson here for designers--spend a little extra on the voice electronics and 'personality'.
posted by eye of newt at 11:42 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


ceribus peribus: "Here are 5 guys in a limo who could say a thing or two about voiceover popularity."

Woot! I used to keep a local copy of this. Better quality, mind you, but it will be nice to have it again.
posted by Samizdata at 11:49 PM on October 21, 2011


The voices of HAL and GLaDOS would be nice, but I'd like to have the voice from WarGames.
posted by Gentlemanhog at 12:22 AM on October 22, 2011


Obviously there need to be options. I want a phone with Siri's attitude that speaks Brooklyn dockworker.
posted by Twang at 2:18 AM on October 22, 2011


Does anyone know if machines use male or female voices in Southeast Asia? That might shed some light on if this is a cultural thing.

One of the top cultural differences I noticed when I went to Switzerland was that all of the automated announcements inside a tram / bus announcing an approaching station/ bus-stop were made by a male voice. Being used to female voices on Singapore's (and I think Hong Kong's, perhaps even Kuala Lumpur's) MRT's, that felt strange.

The automated announcements on India's Rajdhani Express's were all male, as I recall, although most automated announcements made in a railway station are female.

(Again, all from memory; just trying to understand my own response here; I think it's fair to say that I somehow naturally prefer female automated voices, although I can't pinpoint exactly why.)
posted by the cydonian at 4:32 AM on October 22, 2011


Does anyone know if machines use male or female voices in Southeast Asia? That might shed some light on if this is a cultural thing.

In Vietnam all voiceovers on TV, all intercom announcements at airports, and all machine voices I can recall are female.

Not really surprising considering that women do all the work here.

Seriously, though, I think it's that it would be problematic to have a man's voice telling other men things without reference to the social hierarchy - there's no way of knowing the relative social position of a voiceover.
posted by grubby at 5:15 AM on October 22, 2011


Apparently English-speaking users do at least have the option of choosing between the female US and male UK voices (SLYT).
posted by NetizenKen at 9:31 AM on October 22, 2011


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