Apple debuted the iPhone 4s with Siri on October 4, 2011. The unexpected arrival of the digital personal assistant was called a life-changing moment bound to reshape how we interacted with mobile devices.
A year later, Siri went live on iPads. Siri is also an important feature of CarPlay and this year got added to the Apple Watch as a crucial method of hands-free user interaction. The digital personal assistant is now in the pockets, on wrists and in the cars of the millions, answering the world’s questions.
But what does it take to become the voice of Siri? Former Siri voice actors have shared secrets of the trade with The Guardian newspaper and talked about becoming instantly recognizable voices around the world.
Here are the juiciest bits.
Siri voice actors
Some of the real voices behind Apple’s voice-activated assistant are:
- Susan Bennett—She is the female voice of Siri in the United States and also the official voice of Delta Airlines. She started off as a singer and sang the jingle about “Tillie the All Time Teller” for First National Bank.
- Jon Briggs—Known to the general public as the first British male voice for Siri, Briggs is also the voice of The Weakest Link show and has been the voice of BBC Radio 2 for 13 years.
- Karen Jacobsen—Karen is the official voice of Siri in Australia. Better known as the “GPS girl,” her voice ended up in over 400 million GPS and smartphone devices worldwide. She is also a singer and musician.
These are just three Siris The Guardian tracked down.
Apple has since changed many of the Siri voices as the digital personal assistant expanded into Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, China and other regions with a variety of accents.
The process of recording Siri voices is called concatenation.
Susan spent four hours a day, five days a week for a month recording US Siri voices. She said all of the original Siri voices worldwide came from a bank of digital voices that were recorded back in 2005. The original Siri was “the first concatenated voice to actually sound human,” she said.
Recording Siri voices
Apple has never divulged the process of recording Siri voices and little information pertaining to becoming the voice of Siri was shared publicly. But like with any other voice acting gig, one must go to an audition before being even considered as the voice of Siri.
“I had an audition. I read the brief and thought: ‘This is me. This job is mine!,’ said Karen, the voice of Siri in Australia.
She got the job on the spot.
Susan Bennett is the original American female voice for Siri.
The culture of secrecy
None of the voice talents knew they would be recording voices for an Apple-branded personal digital assistant that would end up in the pockets of the millions, nor were they allowed to speak publicly about their gig.
Briggs, the British male voice for Siri, actually asked Apple PR if there was anything he could do to help promote the feature, but Apple was “rather dismissive.”
“If you put someone’s voice in millions of people’s pockets without warning, I’m not sure what you expect that person to say when people ask: ‘is it you?’”, he said.
Susan Bennett first learned that her voice recordings were used as the voice of Siri the day the voice-activated feature was announced. “I was flattered that my voice had been chosen, but it was strange not to have known about it in advance,” she said.
Most people react very positively when they discover one of these voice actors is the voice of Siri. Karen Jacobsen, for example, says people mostly want her “to record a message for their kids to tell them to brush their teeth, go to bed when they are told to, and to listen to their parents.”
“But I receive the most beautiful messages thanking me for helping someone with driving anxiety, or getting them to a destination they are headed to,” she added.
“It is surreal.”
“It’s fair to say that the most street cred is gained from those under 20,” said Jon.
Karen is most amused seeing her son ask Siri questions and hear his mother’s voice answering. “When he was younger he seemed frustrated that ‘mommy in the phone’ would not answer him as if she knew him,” she explained.
The last tidbit came from Jon, who said that the original system was recorded for a US company called Scansoft. The firm got acquired by machine speech specialists Nuance and Apple simply licensed it.
Siri’s text-to-speech is separate from its key artificial intelligence systems and is modular, meaning Apple could easily supplant Siri’s Nuance speech recognition with another technology from a third-party.
In fact, a bunch of former Nuance experts now work at Apple on an in-house speech recognition technology to power Siri and give the personal assistant a “neural network” boost. It’s unclear, however, whether Apple has already ditched Nuance for an in-house technology.
Source: The Guardian