Most of us use virtual assistants in iPhones, GPS navigators, and other talking stuff almost every day. We ask what the weather will be like, what time it is, what’s 4×4, driving directions, and so on. But we never ask ourselves why the vast majority of the responses we get are spoken in a female voice.
Some scientists argue that finding a female voice that everyone likes is much easier than modulating a male one. It is associated with the mother’s voice, so most people tend to respond positively to it.
The predecessors of virtual assistants, like dispatchers and secretaries, were mostly women. Back in the 40s, American air force pilots “affectionately” called the aircraft warning system “Bitching Betty” for the peculiar intonation of a mechanized voice. By the end of the 20th century, when voice systems moved from aircraft to cars, manufacturers started getting complaints about the built-in GPS navigator speaking in a female voice. They did not want to “listen to a woman,” telling them what to do. Also, those complaints came from angry men, obviously.
Automatic voice alarm systems and talking robots are all designed and created by humans, which means that their inclinations, social prejudices went straight into the development process. Psychologically speaking, a person is just more prone to female voices. A study published in 2014 says that at the prenatal stage, the fetus responds to the voices of both parents, and the newborn already prefers the mother’s voice rather than the father’s. Another study conducted in 2010, discovered that men most often prefer hearing a female voice even though they don’t like to admit it. Women, on the other hand, well, they also prefer a female voice, so it’s a win-win!
Today we hear automatic voices everywhere, from our earbuds and laptops to our homes and even smart-fridges. Basically, if it has a speaker, there’s a way to make it talk in a gentle, soothing female voice.
Take Karen Jacobsen, for example. She’s famous for lending her beautiful voice of “Australian Karen.” She even has her personal website and a Wiki page.
Carolyn Hopkins’s voice notifies passengers at train stations and New York Airport. What would people do without her directions?
Those of you who own a Windows device, have probably heard of Cortana. I’ve personally never needed her assistance, but it’s good to know we can rely on her. Oh, and she speaks in the voice of Jen Taylor.
Susan Bennett is arguably the most famous voice in the world. Yup, that’s SIRI – your virtual assistant, developed by Apple. Every day, she helps millions of iPhone and iPad owners find the nearest grocery store.
Engineers have modulated a plethora of male, female, and even gender-neutral voices for all sorts of devices and online services, but seems like nothing will beat a real person talking. Or at least not yet. A few more massive lockdowns like this and the society will start to crumble, looking for someone to talk to. And the AI will always be thee to listen to our nagging.