People Prefer Soothing Young Female Voices For AI Robots

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

As several companies are starting to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) for robots, voice options are being considered, and many consumers are choosing a woman’s voice over other options, according to reports.

Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Apple are all examples of businesses’ tendency to have female-associated conversational computing, according to The New York Times.

Microsoft created the AI voice system Cortana for its most recent devices in order to help navigate through the tons of technological capabilities smartphones and tablets have these days. Cortana is a comforting voice that objectively sounds more female than male. It was the same voice used for the popular video game franchise “Halo.”

“In our research for Cortana, both men and women prefer a woman, younger, for their personal assistant, by a country mile,” Derek Connell, Microsoft’s lead developer of Cortana, told The NYT.

Google introduced an array of voice-based services last week, including its own version of Echo. All of the products employ Google Assistant, which communicates in a tone most closely correlated with a young, likely educated, female.

Google Assistant “is a millennial librarian who understands cultural cues, and can wink at things,” Ryan Germick, who heads the personality efforts for the development of Google Assistant, told The NYT. “Products aren’t about rational design decisions. They are about psychology and how people feel.” And people inherently feel more comfortable talking to what they believe sounds feminine.

Apple is famously known for Siri, the main system in the iPhone that essentially serves as a virtual personal assistant for the device. Siri’s voice is fairly monotone, but is still distinctly female. There are many different accent options for Siri’s voice from around the world. All except for the British option are woman-sounding voices with the proper geographic inflection, reports The NYT, including Ireland (“Moira”), Australia (“Karen”), and South Africa (“Tessa”).

Amazon’s Echo is a computerized speaker equipped with an artificially intelligent personal assistant named Alexa, which as might be expected, sounds feminine. Consumers can interact with Alexa to not only control the Echo, but other synced devices as well.

One contrary example, in which a business uses a male-sounding voice, is IBM’s Watson, a cognitive computer system. When the developers of Watson were deciding on the most optimal voice, they discovered that female computerized voices could not always be identified as artificial, while male voices exhibited a clearer robot voice. Watson is the exception, since IBM seemingly cares more about Watson coming off as a computer than it did about people’s comfort during interaction.

“You need a persona. It’s a very emotional thing—people would get red, even get violent, if it didn’t understand them,” Peng Shao, an AI developer who once worked on Echo technology for Amazon, told The NYT. “When it did understand them, it felt like magic. They sleep next to them. This is heading for hospitals, senior care, a lot of sensitive places.”

Artificial Intelligence is a relatively nascent area of technology, so its full prospects are not yet known. But what is clear is that businesses and their developers almost always choose a young, woman’s voice because that’s what the people want.

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