Alexa’s Original Human Voice Actor Uncovered in New Book
The origin of the default voice used by Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant has been uncovered by author Brad Stone. He traced the dulcet, and increasingly natural-sounding synthetic voice to a specific voiceover artist from Boulder, Colorado named Nina Rolle, revealing his discovery in his new book, Amazon Unbound, excerpted in Wired this week.
Alexa’s Origin Story
Amazon and Nina Rolle both declined to confirm or deny her place in voice assistant history, but Stone’s reporting is persuasive, and he is far from a novice in tech investigations. Stone based his conclusion on interviews with voiceover artists in Colorado, and contemporaneous public and personal records. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos apparently took part in the months-long review of potential voices, signing off on the final choice.
“Characteristically secretive, Amazon has never revealed the name of the voice artist behind Alexa,” Stone wrote in the excerpt. “I learned her identity after canvasing the professional voice-over community: Boulder, Colorado-based voice actress and singer Nina Rolle. Her professional website contains links to old radio ads for products such as Mott’s Apple Juice and the Volkswagen Passat—and the warm timbre of Alexa’s voice is unmistakable. Rolle said she wasn’t allowed to talk to me when I reached her on the phone in February 2021. When I asked Amazon to speak with her, they declined.”
You can hear Alexa in Rolle’s demo recordings on her website, particularly the Narration and E-Learning clips, and in the short video below. When Alexa is asked to repeat back those words, the similarity is even stronger, even if just to an untrained human ear. Alexa is just part of Stone’s book, which is available for sale now.
The synthetic voices used for the most popular voice assistants have origins in human voices, but the companies behind them usually stive to obscure that fact. The need for strong branding and avoiding potential legal hazards are likely some of the main reasons for that strategy. Amazon, Apple, Google, and their rivals would likely prefer that people think of their voice assistants as entirely crafted in a lab, without any umbilical cord to humanity. The exception being when the voice is itself a brand, like with Samuel L. Jackson’s role as an option for Alexa’s voice or some of the voice apps created in partnership with brands who have a popular spokesperson. Otherwise, the only time it comes up is when the person behind the voice is promoted for some other purpose. For instance, the original voice of Siri, Susan Bennett, is now in the Persona 5 Strikers video game as the voice of virtual assistant Emma.