Siri, the digital PA on Apple’s latest iPhone, is female in the US and male in the UK.
Let the conspiracy theories begin!
Apple has declined to commenton the reasoning behind this, but theories abound.Stephen Ebbett, of gadget insurer Protectyourbubble.com, says: “Apple has decided that Brits trust an authoritative male voice, while Americans traditionally favour and are more receptive to a female voice.”
Yet it’s the Brits who elected a female PM, while poor Hilary is reduced to waiting around for news of Ghaddafi’s death to appear on her Blackberry…
You won’t be surprised to find out that there are people in the world actually studying this:
Last week, an editor at Boston-based Atlantic magazine, Rebecca Rosen, studied the gender politics of robots. She concluded that when technology uses a voice to guide us through phone messages or on public transport, it tends to be female. Anything more active or cerebral is usually male.
Unfortunately, that’s only true of commercially owned systems; anyone with a sat-nav or any other bit of voice technology will tell you, it’s usually up to the owner to pick the voice. On some sat-navs, you can even get celebrity voices!
So unless they’ve checked with a significant percentage of personal users, I can’t see how they have enough data to judge.
For manufacturers, working out the sex of technology is a complicated business – and one that unearths our prejudices.
Oh. Right. Of course it does…
Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University, an authority on the human-technology interface, said in the Toronto Star that people respond to robotic gender just as they do to human gender, with deeper voices considered “more intelligent and credible”.He worked at BMW in the 90s when it recalled navigation systems with a female voice: “Drivers [who were mostly male] didn’t want to take directions from a female.” So does the ubiquity of female GPS voices mean the situation has improved? Or is it because women’s voices are thought to be more calming, reverting to the “women as carers, men as doers” paradigm?
Or is it just a fad?
Returning to Apple’s Siri, Jeremy Wagstaff, who runs technology consultancy Loose Wire Organisation, says: “Americans speak loudly and clearly and are usually in a hurry, so it makes sense for them to have a female voice because it has the pitch and range. British people mumble and obey authority, so they need someone authoritative.” Which, apparently, still means male.
Funny, I often have to have the subtitles up for US TV shows because, to me, they are the ones that mumble!
So, does it really matter? Is this the sort of thing we should be obsessing over? And if Apple release a ‘optional voice’ for Siri in a few months time, will it still be an issue for ‘The Women’s Blog’..?