If you use Apple's Siri virtual assistant, you probably refer to it as "she," since its voice comes preloaded sounding like a nice, if a little snarky, woman. If you load up your Google Maps to drive to your friend's house, a female voice pops back up. Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft, also have digital assistants with feminine voices—but why?
If ask Siri point-blank what her gender is, she'll tell you she doesn't have a gender, since she's just a computer program. But the voice behind her is a woman named Susan Bennett, who creates a totally eerie effect when you watch her speak on television.
And the reason Bennett was cast is a deep-seated one. Wired reports that we're predisposed as a culture to think more highly of women's voices. In a 2011 study, participants listened to both male and female voices, and both said the woman's voice was warmer; subconsciously, men didn't care either way, but women loved hearing another woman's voice.
And according to ABC News, it might even start from birth. "Babies will attend to a female voice more than they will a male one," Stanford professor Clifford Nass said back when Siri was first launched. So it might be a subconscious link between women and what we perceive as helpful.
It's also rooted in history, since women were old-school telephone operators and pilots were given instructions by female voices in the cockpit to distinguish instructions from the men operating the plane. And since the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey created HAL, male robot voices are generally considered creepy. That connection may change from country to country, CNN notes, since Siri defaulted to male in the U.K. and France.
If you'd rather listen to a different voice, you can now change Siri's accent, language, and gender. Once I learned this, I immediately set my Siri to sound like a British man, since it's the closest thing to having a butler named Jeeves around.
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