27 votes

Hear what a genderless AI voice sounds like—and consider why it matters

38 comments

  1. [5]
    papasquat
    Link
    Excuse my cynicism, but this entire thing seems like a marketing campaign to get a company's product sold. I don't know much about Apple because I don't use IOS, but Google already has multiple...

    Excuse my cynicism, but this entire thing seems like a marketing campaign to get a company's product sold. I don't know much about Apple because I don't use IOS, but Google already has multiple voices for the assistant, some of them in a lower register, some of them higher, and some in the middle. None of them have an explicitly defined gender. Further, the idea that one's gender can or should be defined by the pitch of their voice seems like the exact opposite of a helpful idea.

    What problem is this supposed solve, exactly?

    20 votes
    1. [2]
      Heichou
      Link Parent
      I think it's a neat thing someone did to make a certain demographic feel included and welcomed, but it borders on sensationalism for me. I'm all for inclusion, but touting it around as "The...

      I think it's a neat thing someone did to make a certain demographic feel included and welcomed, but it borders on sensationalism for me. I'm all for inclusion, but touting it around as "The future" seems a tad naive

      11 votes
      1. haykam821
        Link Parent
        Definitely.

        Definitely.

        I'm created for a future where we are no longer defined by gender, but rather how we define ourselves.

        1 vote
    2. [2]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      I've tried the various Google voices, and while it may be an esthetic preference, I like this one better for its relative clarity and lack of sibilance. Some of the Google synthesized voices...

      I've tried the various Google voices, and while it may be an esthetic preference, I like this one better for its relative clarity and lack of sibilance. Some of the Google synthesized voices aren't very audible when used for navigation in the presence of road noise, especially the middle toned one; there are other reasons for choice besides the gender range.

      1 vote
      1. papasquat
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I'll admit that I haven't explored many of the Google voices for any longer period of time than just listening to their previews, but I find that the default voice is pretty clear. The main issue...

        I'll admit that I haven't explored many of the Google voices for any longer period of time than just listening to their previews, but I find that the default voice is pretty clear. The main issue I see with this I guess, is that by saying that this voice is supposed to be representative of nonbinary people it's implying that nonbinary people tend to sound androgynous, which... just isn't the case whatsoever. If the point is that it's another voice option in the mid register, that makes sense to me, but framing the thing as a step forward for nonbinary inclusion strikes me as both disingenuous and flat out incorrect. Most people with middle register voices are not nonbinary, and most nonbinary people don't have middle register voices.
        The only people this gives representation to is people with androgynous voices, which is... great I guess, but is a totally different thing, and a totally different group of people.

        6 votes
  2. [10]
    Grzmot
    Link
    To me personally the voice still sounds female. But giving people more options isn't a bad thing, and it definitely sounds interesting.

    To me personally the voice still sounds female. But giving people more options isn't a bad thing, and it definitely sounds interesting.

    13 votes
    1. [4]
      clem
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      To me it sounds like the voice constantly switches between male and female, which was disconcerting. I suppose, then, the most interesting thing I took from listening to it was my own reaction!...

      To me it sounds like the voice constantly switches between male and female, which was disconcerting. I suppose, then, the most interesting thing I took from listening to it was my own reaction! It's a good idea, though, and it'd be interesting to hear again after further development. There's no reason for my digital "assistant" to have a gender.

      18 votes
      1. [2]
        Grzmot
        Link Parent
        What was your reaction to the voice? I think most people will still prefer something they know, i.e a voice with a clearly assigned gender. It's simply human. Even if the robot has no sex, we...

        What was your reaction to the voice?

        I think most people will still prefer something they know, i.e a voice with a clearly assigned gender. It's simply human. Even if the robot has no sex, we still like to assign it one simply because it's easier for us to process, or because we prefer a more natural sounding voice.

        3 votes
        1. clem
          Link Parent
          My reaction was simply that I found it strange. It kept switching back and forth, and this felt like a major shift in my mind each time. The strange part is that it affected me that much--I don't...

          My reaction was simply that I found it strange. It kept switching back and forth, and this felt like a major shift in my mind each time. The strange part is that it affected me that much--I don't understand why it matters which gender an AI voice sounds like. Intellectually, I don't care much about other people's gender or sexuality, but when faced with something like this, it's clear that I do care on some level.

          Edit: Like you say, I guess I was assigning it a gender to make it easier to process--but why does my mind need to do this?

          I wonder, too, if the strangeness has something to do with the uncanny valley--that the voice is so close to a masculine or feminine voice, but just not quite there.

          3 votes
      2. json
        Link Parent
        I also could hear gender switching. Predominantly female though. A somewhat Australian woman with a deep voice. I'm from New Zealand, so perhaps some strange bias there.

        I also could hear gender switching. Predominantly female though.

        A somewhat Australian woman with a deep voice. I'm from New Zealand, so perhaps some strange bias there.

        1 vote
    2. [2]
      pleure
      Link Parent
      It sounds like a soft-spoken male to me. It's nice though! Far less grating than say, the default siri or alexa voices.

      It sounds like a soft-spoken male to me. It's nice though! Far less grating than say, the default siri or alexa voices.

      8 votes
      1. Grzmot
        Link Parent
        Do you think that's because of the perceived lack of gender or because it sounds more realistic? I find the default digital assistant voices fairly fake sounding, so perhaps that's a factor.

        Do you think that's because of the perceived lack of gender or because it sounds more realistic? I find the default digital assistant voices fairly fake sounding, so perhaps that's a factor.

    3. [2]
      ThatFanficGuy
      Link Parent
      For me, too, to an extent. I wonder what it says about me, and about the people who hear that, as well as about the voice itself. For reference: I'm male (you can tell by the username), in both...

      For me, too, to an extent. I wonder what it says about me, and about the people who hear that, as well as about the voice itself.

      For reference: I'm male (you can tell by the username), in both physiology and gender. In my lifetime, I'd encountered a wide range of male and female voices, and I've only heard a handful of those who don't readily comply with my gender stereotypes. One, maybe two examples have been of stark-enough contrast; the rest were just a bit off, stereotypically-speaking.

      Am I, as a male, genetically-programmed to distinguish between genders based on voice modulation? As in, am I more likely to react to a female voice (so that, evolutionally, I could be more likely to score a mate), which is why I hear one more readily in what's supposed to be a genderless voice? Or is it that the non-gendered voice is naturally located closer to the female vocal median, therefore sounding more feminine?

      1 vote
      1. culturedleftfoot
        Link Parent
        We all purportedly prefer female voices, so I'm guessing it has more to do with distinguishing/associating your mother's voice as a baby than necessarily finding mates.

        We all purportedly prefer female voices, so I'm guessing it has more to do with distinguishing/associating your mother's voice as a baby than necessarily finding mates.

        1 vote
    4. Octofox
      Link Parent
      I thought it sounded fairly close to in between. You could imagine either gender sounding like that.

      I thought it sounded fairly close to in between. You could imagine either gender sounding like that.

      1 vote
  3. [12]
    patience_limited
    Link
    Listening to the audio clip is recommended. I'm personally delighted with this result. Default female-voiced virtual assistants always sound uncomfortably servile, with intonations meant to be as...

    Listening to the audio clip is recommended. I'm personally delighted with this result. Default female-voiced virtual assistants always sound uncomfortably servile, with intonations meant to be as unthreatening and "nice" as possible. Male-voiced assistants (to me, at least) are lecturing authorities. The degendered version doesn't invoke prior role expectations and is just there to help.

    11 votes
    1. [2]
      Droplet
      Link Parent
      Link to the clip here in case anyone can't view the website.

      Link to the clip here in case anyone can't view the website.

      13 votes
      1. Gyrfalcon
        Link Parent
        And in typical fashion, youtube has not taken kindly to any content that has even a chance of challenging their world view.

        And in typical fashion, youtube has not taken kindly to any content that has even a chance of challenging their world view.

        5 votes
    2. [9]
      NeoTheFox
      Link Parent
      Honestly, I prefer female AI voices for exactly the reason you've listed - it's servile, nice and unthreatening, exactly how I would want interface to sound. This somehow sounds more synthetic and...

      Honestly, I prefer female AI voices for exactly the reason you've listed - it's servile, nice and unthreatening, exactly how I would want interface to sound. This somehow sounds more synthetic and bland, just like most corporate things are these days.

      3 votes
      1. [4]
        Algernon_Asimov
        Link Parent
        Why do you think a female voice sounds servile? Do you think all women sound servile? Are women servile? There's a demonstration of the problem with gendered virtual assistants: they play into...

        I prefer female AI voices for exactly the reason you've listed - it's servile, nice and unthreatening,

        Why do you think a female voice sounds servile? Do you think all women sound servile? Are women servile?

        There's a demonstration of the problem with gendered virtual assistants: they play into gender stereotypes.

        4 votes
        1. [3]
          NeoTheFox
          Link Parent
          Because the developers made it so. You can make a male voice sound servile, but since female voice is softer, and most people prefer female voice it just works well together, better than a male...

          Why do you think a female voice sounds servile?

          Because the developers made it so. You can make a male voice sound servile, but since female voice is softer, and most people prefer female voice it just works well together, better than a male voice. It's just how our brains work.

          4 votes
          1. [2]
            Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            I didn't ask why the developers used a female voice, or whether most people prefer a female voice. I asked you why you think a female voice sounds servile. What aspects of a female voice make it...

            I didn't ask why the developers used a female voice, or whether most people prefer a female voice. I asked you why you think a female voice sounds servile. What aspects of a female voice make it sound like a servant to you?

            1 vote
            1. NeoTheFox
              Link Parent
              And I answered you that it sounds servile because it's made to sound servile. The original comment I responded to: So I've said that I prefer female voices sounding servile and nice. I never...

              And I answered you that it sounds servile because it's made to sound servile.
              The original comment I responded to:

              Default female-voiced virtual assistants always sound uncomfortably servile, with intonations meant to be as unthreatening and "nice" as possible.

              So I've said that I prefer female voices sounding servile and nice. I never implied that female voices are inherently servile.

              4 votes
      2. [4]
        Thrabalen
        Link Parent
        I prefer female voice assistants, but they haven't gotten anyone to do a perfect Majel Roddenberry yet.

        I prefer female voice assistants, but they haven't gotten anyone to do a perfect Majel Roddenberry yet.

        1 vote
        1. [3]
          Algernon_Asimov
          Link Parent
          You don't need someone to do a perfect Majel Roddenberry when Majel herself can do the job.

          You don't need someone to do a perfect Majel Roddenberry when Majel herself can do the job.

          1 vote
          1. [2]
            Thrabalen
            Link Parent
            The only problem is, you'll have to cherry-pick old episodes, and the quality isn't going to be consistent. I miss the hell out of that woman (yes, even as Lwaxana Troi.)

            The only problem is, you'll have to cherry-pick old episodes, and the quality isn't going to be consistent. I miss the hell out of that woman (yes, even as Lwaxana Troi.)

            1. Diff
              Link Parent
              What do you mean? She had her voice completely sampled, so with the magic of Technology™ we can make her say anything at all.

              What do you mean? She had her voice completely sampled, so with the magic of Technology™ we can make her say anything at all.

              1 vote
  4. [6]
    PahoojyMan
    Link
    Sounds female to me. Specifically a British African-Caribbean female.

    Sounds female to me. Specifically a British African-Caribbean female.

    6 votes
    1. patience_limited
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I agree with you somewhat, since many of my co-workers are Afro-Caribbean, but it's also a learned trick for subordinated people to sound more authoritative. The Elizabeth Holmes story has an...

      I agree with you somewhat, since many of my co-workers are Afro-Caribbean, but it's also a learned trick for subordinated people to sound more authoritative. The Elizabeth Holmes story has an extreme example. I've personally worked around men too long, and this synthesized voice is near where my speaking range is currently pitched. My natural tone is closer to soprano range. Normal, unforced vocal range is related to physical size and vocal cord length/thickness.

      1 vote
    2. [3]
      culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      Huh. Sounds like a dude to me, broadly English. I don't hear any African/Caribbean at all.

      Huh. Sounds like a dude to me, broadly English. I don't hear any African/Caribbean at all.

      1. [2]
        Diff
        Link Parent
        I got hints of what Pahoojy was talking about, but it wasn't constant throughout the entire voice. Sometimes it'd fade out into something I didn't immediately file under that label.

        I got hints of what Pahoojy was talking about, but it wasn't constant throughout the entire voice. Sometimes it'd fade out into something I didn't immediately file under that label.

        1. culturedleftfoot
          Link Parent
          On second listen, I think I hear some of what you all are probably referring to, in how it kinda stops itself from fully pronouncing Rs? Like some soft -uhs instead of hard -ers.

          On second listen, I think I hear some of what you all are probably referring to, in how it kinda stops itself from fully pronouncing Rs? Like some soft -uhs instead of hard -ers.

    3. pard68
      Link Parent
      Agreed. My coworker and I both heard a Haitian female.

      Agreed. My coworker and I both heard a Haitian female.

  5. Parameter
    Link
    "Gender neutral people were recording and then their voices were altered to sound gender neutral." Okay, the purpose seems a little odd. I would think they could be more successful and be better...

    "Gender neutral people were recording and then their voices were altered to sound gender neutral."

    Okay, the purpose seems a little odd. I would think they could be more successful and be better able to achieve their goal with less social commentary. That said, I love the voice and the idea.

    6 votes
  6. bub
    Link
    So, I'm not sure if I'll get flak for this, but the male voice changes during puberty. The female voice does not undergo any significant change during development into an adult. So if you remove...

    So, I'm not sure if I'll get flak for this, but the male voice changes during puberty. The female voice does not undergo any significant change during development into an adult.

    So if you remove the effects of male development from a human voice, it will sound female, but removing the female developmental effects also produces a nonetheless female-sounding voice.

    Given this, a genderless human voice is in fact a female voice. I'm sure there are other ways to look at it, but I think this one is valid.

    3 votes
  7. jgb
    Link
    I'll go against the grain here and say that to me this sounds somewhat stilted and unnatural - which isn't really surprising since it was engineered to sound like a biological state which doesn't...

    I'll go against the grain here and say that to me this sounds somewhat stilted and unnatural - which isn't really surprising since it was engineered to sound like a biological state which doesn't exist. It's not easy or pleasant to listen to for me. I don't think there's anything wrong at all with AI voices sounding like men or women, since everyone in the real world sounds like a man or a woman. Voice isn't a 'social construct' in the same way that 'pink is feminine and blue is masculine' is a social construct; it's a consequence of biology - and to engineer a voice that isn't consistent with biology is to engineer a voice that is inhuman.

    3 votes
  8. JustABanana
    Link
    Direct link to the voice clip on youtube, provided by /u/droplet Lots of people say that they hear either a male or female voice. Could it be that it's because we are so used to the idea that...

    Direct link to the voice clip on youtube, provided by /u/droplet

    Lots of people say that they hear either a male or female voice. Could it be that it's because we are so used to the idea that voices have to be male or female we try to force a gender on the voice? For me the voice just switched between sounding male and female

  9. Migaloo
    Link
    To me it sounds a lot like Nomi from sense8. Which I guess somewhat makes sense.

    To me it sounds a lot like Nomi from sense8. Which I guess somewhat makes sense.