Apple Gives Siri Two New Voice Options and Stops Defaulting to Current Standard
Apple’s Siri voice assistant will include two new English voice options and won’t use the current female voice as the default choice anymore. As first reported by TechCrunch, setting up any Siri-enabled device will include picking how the voice assistant will sound right away, not just making it an option to change later.
Here’s a recording of Siri’s new lineup of American voices in iOS 14.5. Voices 1 and 4 are the existing ones, voices 2 and 3 are the new ones. pic.twitter.com/6emei4B3Z9
— John Gruber (@gruber) April 1, 2021
Siri currently includes the option for a male and female voice, with the woman’s voice the well-known default. The update doubles the catalog with a new male and female voice. You can hear all four options in the tweet above. Voices 1 and 4 are the current options and voices 2 and 3 are the new ones. Like their predecessors, the new voices were built by running a person’s recorded voice through Apple’s neural text-to-speech engine (NTTS) to teach the AI how to mimic the voice and generate natural-sounding speech that was not spoken by the voice artist. Apple has been expanding NTTS globally, with the newest update bringing the tech to Siri’s voices in Ireland, Italy, and Russia The new voices are in beta testing right now as part of the upcoming iOS 14.5 release.
“We’re excited to introduce two new Siri voices for English speakers and the option for Siri users to select the voice they want when they set up their device,” Apple said in a statement.”This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”
Choice and Defaults
Apple choosing to develop two new voices for Siri is interesting, but the shift in how and when the voice is chosen seems more notable. Forcing a choice of voice, as a mandatory part of device setup elevates what would appear to be a purely cosmetic element of the device to greater importance. The shift might also just be a way for Apple to draw attention to the change as it works to avoid accusations that Siri’s female voice enforces an image of women as subservient. Placing the choice of voice upfront might reduce those criticisms, but it’s worth pointing out that while the female voice has been the default in the U.S., other markets use a male voice as the default Siri voice instead. On the other hand, with Siri responding in 21 languages to more than 25 billion requests on 500 million devices every month, the sound of the voice is everywhere. There’s also evidence that the voice contributes to how people perceive the AI’s personality.
Every major voice assistant has multiple voice options, adding new ones every so often. New voice assistants bring more than one choice as well. Russia’s newly minted tech giant Sber offers four very different voices for its voice assistant, even going as far as to make up biographies and personalities for each of them. None have eliminated picking one out as a default however. One voice you’re unlikely to see come back to Apple is Siri’s first one. But, you can hear it any time if you play Persona 5 Striker. Siri’s first voice actress reprises her role as the voice assistant Emma in the video game