Tuesday 25 October 2011

Are we really that different?

My husband recently bought an iPhone 4S and I couldn't wait to play with Siri, the new virtual assistant who was supposed to issue reminders, verbally send text messages and much more.  We spoke of Siri before buying the phone and both of us called her a "her". "She will do this..."; "I'll ask her to remind me of that..."   

You can imagine our shock and horror (ok, maybe it was just borderline surprise) when Siri first spoke in a man's voice!  A male Siri!?  What on earth?   Soon after, I heard from a friend in America who was still calling his Siri a "she" and then it hit me - the US Siri is a woman and the UK (and apparently the French also) Siri is a man. 

What's this about?  Are we really that different that some marketing or development executive decided that British consumers want a male assistant and American ones want a female?   Surely this took more work to develop the two voices, so why bother?

I did a bit of research and found most studies on the topic of robot voices say that female voices are more pleasing and easier to understand. Some research puts this down to hearing the mothers voice in the womb.  Other theories related to the use of female voices in robots and computers hark back to World War II, when women's voices were used in airplane cockpits because they stood out among the male pilots. Also, since telephone operators have traditionally been female, many people have become accustomed to getting assistance from a woman's voice. 

This all makes sense to me, so why is the UK (and France) any different??

Apple refuses to comment on the UK male voice and the only theory I have come across was in the Guardian which claimed the reason for the difference is that 'British people mumble and obey authority, so they need someone authoritative'.  Huh?  I'm not buying into this, so my confusion remains...

Any thoughts from my loyal-ish readers?  (or am I the only one perplexed by this?)

Oh, and if you are in the UK and would perfer a female Siri, you can simply change the language to US English, but this will also change the accent of your new friend.  There is currently no option of getting a female British-accented Siri.

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