Did you ever think about why almost all of the computer-generated voices you hear over interactive voice response (IVR) systems are female? This writer did. So did this guy at CNN. And now everyone else is too.
Surprise: Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass said, "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." Nass is also author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships.
We apparently fall prey to biology once again (pesky science!) while even our affinities for human voices are gendered. Or, perhaps it’s history, as Brandon Griggs noted, “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.”
Aside from science and history telling us that we’re predetermined to be more amenable to female voices since we heard them first in our mother’s wombs, there are other factors at work here. The IVR experts over at Plum Voice make note of the fact that “In some instances (like in the U.K. and France) a male voice has been chosen to power Siri,” in a recent blog post.
Perhaps this choice reflects European apprehensions about instituting a female voice into any speech recognition software. Plum writers continued, “In the 1990s, BMW was forced to issue a recall on their navigation system because they had received so many complaints from German men refusing to take directions from a woman.”
Let me repeat…the 1990’s. That decade wasn’t exactly “ages” ago. Clearly, the Western world is a little less evolved than it thought it was, especially concerning antiquated gender roles and inhibitions.
Regardless, Plum notes, “Depending on what TTS engine they are using (Nuance, Natural Voices, Cepstral (News - Alert)), there are a variety of voices, accents and even languages users can choose from. Since Siri technology is brand new to the market, users don’t yet have the ability to change the default, but soon there will probably be a variety of voices and even accents users can select from.”
So it looks like we won’t have to be stuck with coddling female mother-like voices forever, which, frankly, kind of annoy me. I personally enjoy a rich, broad-voiced pirate-sounding male. But, I’ve always been the science-defying type.
Juliana Kenny graduated from the University of Connecticut with a double degree in English and French. After managing a small company for two years, she joined TMC (News - Alert) as a Web Editor for TMCnet. Juliana currently focuses on the call center and CRM industries, but she also writes about cloud telephony and network gear including softswitches.
Edited by Jamie Epstein