Why Siri sounds like a lady

CNN's Brandon Griggs wrote a column speculating as to why most computer generated voices, including Apple's Siri, are made to sound female.

Research suggests this preference starts as early as the womb, Nass said. He cites a study in which fetuses were found to react to the sound of their mother's voice but not to other female voices. The fetuses showed no distinct reaction to their father's voice, however.

Another answer lies in history. According to some sources, the use of female voices in navigation devices dates back to World War II, when women's voices were employed in airplane cockpits because they stood out among the male pilots. And telephone operators have traditionally been female, making people accustomed to getting assistance from a disembodied woman's voice."

Griggs suggests HAL -- and I'd add Vader, Cylons, CARR, WOPR, MCP, Agent Smith, and others -- have led North Americans to become more than a little leery of computers with boy parts. My take is that North American gadget users are a nerdy computer society, and we nerds prefer a sexy female voices telling us what to do. Economics 101.

Note: In the U.K Siri's voice is male. Read into that whatever you will.

Update: CNN also took issue with the synthetic sound of Siri's voice.

"What's interesting to me is how they seem to intentionally make her speech sound artificial -- they could choose to make her speech more seamless and human-like, but they choose instead to highlight the technology," she said. "That makes you aware of how high-tech your gadget is."

David Barnard of Tweet Speaker points out one of the more obvious explanations:

Not without dramatically increasing file size!

Source: CNN, @dbarnard

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Anthony is an IT administrator, retro gamer, and accessory reviewer for iMore.

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Reader comments

Why Siri sounds like a lady


How large is the file size of more realistic speech synthesizers? I wonder how much they are based on samples of real speech and how much is actually synthesized.
My father actually thought Siri didn't sound computerized at all. He's in his 70s but his hearing is fine, so I wonder if it's just a matter of not being really exposed to this technology, the way we thought say computer animation of the 90s looked realistic before being exposed to progressively more sophisticated iterations?
It seems that choosing a regional version of Siri also affects the accent recognition, so I feel bad for the Brits who are stuck with that haughty-sounding male voice. I'd switch to the Australian version if my midwestern American accent didn't confuse it.

It's a matter of both either being new to technology and also though that are comfortable with listening to the voices generated by technology that automatically deem these generated voices realistic.
When you switch off to the fact the voice is computer generated and treat it as a voice then you learn to switch off to the the little stutters and errors in the spoken words.
As for switching accent to Australian, it is a shame that it uses the 'voice recognition portion' to dictate the speech synthesis portion rather than allowing alternating systems to be used ie to interpret American English and speak in Australian or British English etc
Until it does I will pass on Siri and to me it will always remain an it just like my GPS, Stove and Lavatory are all it" as well.

when you set Siri to understand a British voice, it's male.
much to my dismay... I like the female voice, especially nuances Fiona (Scotish English Voice).
must be all the beards our British women have.

I was wondering why they didn't make the voice sound real. I Know they can like when I use voice over some are very smooth and real-like.

And they should keep it sounding machine-like so people don't ask their phone if it loves them...

I think Siri is cautious of the "uncanny valley." Check it out on wiki. The research doesn't address voice only applications but I believe the programmers may have taken it into consideration. It's possible the speech pattern serves to reminds us that it's still just a machine and not our new best friend. Or it could be a voice any more real became creepy. Just a thought.

Ya'll gone make me watch that series all over again.
The choice to switch to a sexy male voice would be nice.

At the outset I've thought about just sticking to my iPhone 4. But I've been leaning more towards getting the 4S lately. And it's all because of Siri. It seems everybody's talking about how cool (and funny) Siri can be.

At the outset I've thought about just sticking to my iPhone 4. But I've been leaning more towards getting the 4S lately. And it's all because of Siri. It seems everybody's talking about how cool (and funny) Siri can be.