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Why Computer Voices Are Mostly Female 276

Posted by timothy
from the because-females-are-smarter dept.
PolygamousRanchKid writes with an article exploring the question posed in the headline, which says that "One answer may lie in biology. Scientific studies have shown that people generally find women's voices more pleasing than men's. 'It's much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes,' said Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass, author of 'The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships. 'It's a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices.' One notable exception has been Germany, where BMW was forced to recall a female-voiced navigation system on its 5 Series cars in the late 1990s after being flooded with calls from German men saying they refused to take directions from a woman. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on why the company gave Siri a female voice in the U.S. Nor would she say why Siri speaks like a man in the UK, where iPhone 4S owners have swarmed online forums to request a female voice instead."
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Why Computer Voices Are Mostly Female

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  • The library around here had an autodialer that would remind folks about late materials and when books were available, they used a pleasant voice from a black gentleman. It had a James Earl Jones quality to it and was quite pleasant despite being relatively unsophistication in use. Meaning that the words were taken from samples so they wouldn't quite match up even if the grammar was correct.

    • Re:Hmmm, nope. (Score:4, Informative)

      by nathan s (719490) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:59PM (#37811216) Homepage

      From TFA:

      '"It's much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes..."'

      It's not that there are no people who find male voices pleasant or prefer them in some circumstances. Just that _generally_ people prefer female voices. I certainly do.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Because it's not that hard to find somebody with a voice that most folks would like to hear. Which is a pretty serious problem with the hypothesis that it's hard to find male voices that everybody likes.

    • by Just Brew It! (636086) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @03:13PM (#37811318)
      How about we just use James Earl Jones for everything? I think I'd be fine with that...
    • by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @04:10PM (#37811686)

      Meaning that the words were taken from samples so they wouldn't quite match up even if the grammar was correct.

      The trick there. Is to hire Shatner for. The voice. acting. ThenNoOneWillKnowTheDifference.

      • Although I like Leonard Nimoy much better, I - have - noticed - a - similar - style - in - his - delivery.

  • NYC Subway (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sharph (171971) <sharp@sauropod.org> on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:34PM (#37810990) Homepage

    One day I had the interesting observation on the New York Subway that the recorded voices with informational statements were female, and the statements asking the passenger to do something ("Please stand clear of the door") were all male.

    • Re:NYC Subway (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RCL (891376) <rcl.rs.vvg@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:56PM (#37811180) Homepage
      In Moscow subway [ruslanguage.ru], if your train is getting closer to city center, you hear male voice ("boss hurries you to work"), and if you are travelling in opposite direction, there's a female announcer ("wife calls you home") - they switch half-way for most trains. Male-oriented hint, but still.
    • Re:NYC Subway (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Tapewolf (1639955) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @03:05PM (#37811246)
      In Wales, the English rail announcements are female and the Welsh versions are male.
    • by _xeno_ (155264)

      In Boston, they just use one male voice for everything. Although I guess it makes sense, due to things like the following being common:

      (leaving Porter Square): Next stop, Harvard Square.
      (arriving at Harvard Square): Now arriving at Harvard Square.
      (leaving Harvard Square): Next stop, Harvard Square.
      (arriving at Central Square): Now arriving at Harvard Square.
      (leaving Central Square): Next stop, Harvard Square.
      (And so on)

      I've also heard it do the stations backwards, giving the next stop as the stop in the oth

    • by rvw (755107)

      One day I had the interesting observation on the New York Subway that the recorded voices with informational statements were female, and the statements asking the passenger to do something ("Please stand clear of the door") were all male.

      In Barcelona they did this 20 years ago already. A female voice said: "Proxima estacion", and a male one said: "Catalunya". I found it very entertaining then.

      • In Barcelona they did this 20 years ago already. A female voice said: "Proxima estacion", and a male one said: "Catalunya". I found it very entertaining then.

        This is actually an excellent feature--I noticed it when I was in Barcelona a few years ago, and I would be thrilled to see more cities adopt it. Making the name of the station audibly distinct is an excellent cue for listeners in the often-loud subway with its muffled, broken, or distorted public address systems. As an added bonus, subway riders who don't speak Catalan or Spanish get the important information - the station name - clearly set off from the surrounding announcement.

    • A male figure is more authoritative. When making a public announcement, you want to insure directions will be followed as a demand and not simple taken as an informative statement.

  • by multisync (218450) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:34PM (#37810996) Journal

    Female computer voice: Star Trek
    Male computer voice = HAL 9000

    Nothing good ever came from a male computer.

  • Siri (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:39PM (#37811030)

    So US Siri is a secretary and UK Siri is a gentleman's gentleman ?

  • Clearly they have never heard Morgan Freeman.
  • A toggle switch.

    In the BMW it could be a real physical toggle somewhere, but an OS setting would work as well. In Apple's case they need to relax a little, pull the stick out, and let the people toggle which voice they want, even MS allows that on their voice related functions.

    • Garmin allows you to pick from a number of different voices, with different regional accents and languages as well.

      • by Skreems (598317)
        Weren't they the ones who released a Snoop Dogg branded voice navigation system?
        • by pecosdave (536896) *

          You forgot about Tom-Tom fool! [navtones.com]

        • by Tacvek (948259)

          The trouble is that Navigation systems have two very distinct narration types. One is a set of prerecorded sentences and words. Those are relatively inexpensive to make, and most celebrity navigation systems use this. For example all NavTones voices use this style.

          The other is true Text-to-speech. This system is a lot harder since it requires adjusting the incredible number of parameters to get a voice that sounds a close as possible. For things like celebrities it would also work best if any canned text we

      • by digitig (1056110)
        Out of the box my satnav (not Garmin) offers a choice of male voice or female voice (extra voices available for a cost). I use the female voice because it's clearer against low-frequency background noise.
      • by amiga3D (567632)

        I want a female voice with a french accent. Like the french chick on the highlander series who was McCloud's friend. Damn that's a sexy voice.

    • Nah.

      When they really want to pretend some actual intelligence/personality, they should make the voice (and perhaps avatar) randomized, seeded with the phones serial number.

      (remember where you read that first!)

    • Wow, you mean you can't change the voice? You've been able to switch it on Apple Talk since almost its inception. Siri seems to use the "Viki" Apple Talk voice. I assumed that it was just a default setting. "Viki" is a logical default as it's a more advanced version of the old "Victoria", and arguably the most natural sounding Apple Talk voice. It's ridiculous if they don't let you change it, even if it's a memory issue you could still switch the voice when you sync the phone.

      But then, it is Apple "Selli
      • "Viki" is a logical default as it's a more advanced version of the old "Victoria", and arguably the most natural sounding Apple Talk voice.

        Even though Vicki sounds a bit more natural, Victoria is still easier to understand; but Alex beats all other voices in clarity, by far!

    • I'm guessing William Daniels whom voiced for KITT (Knight Rider) is out of the question?

  • by sigxcpu (456479) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:47PM (#37811100)

    In the army there is a known fact/myth that female voices are easier to understand on noisy radio links.
    Something to do white the a different/better frequency spread than a male voice.
    In my not very scientific experience, it seems to be true.

    • Not a myth (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @03:15PM (#37811330)
      In WW2 ground controllers for the British Air Force were almost all women. I was told (by someone who had good reason to know) that there was a debate about whether to have women radio operators in the aircraft. There were two reasons: One was more reliable communication, the other was to prevent the Germans spoofing aircraft radio operators. A number of women operators were asked for their views and immediately volunteered to fly (a very dangerous occupation). Despite this, the proposal was turned down. The attitudes at the time were truly backward; there were women pilots who were allowed to deliver aircraft to their bases, but they were not allowed to fly with guns loaded - a quite incomprehensible decision since some of them were shot down by enemy action without a chance of fighting back.
      • by migla (1099771)

        Thanks for that interesting tidbit. Times have changed quite a lot. Many remnants of the old ways are still permeating our culture, though.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dave420 (699308)
        The Germans also used women ground controllers. A funny story: when the RAF used to interfere with broadcasts on Luftwaffe channels (using "tame" native German speakers) their operations usually ended in German-speaking lady operators arguing with each other, all trying to convince the confused airmen they were a real Luftwaffe controller.
    • by migla (1099771)

      I've also heard that both birds and human babies learn better from a voice more like a womans that that of a mans. Men can of course make their voice be more like that when talking to those, so it's not such a big deal.

    • by realityimpaired (1668397) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @07:19PM (#37812804)

      Obligatory comment: I was in signals in the army for 4 years.

      Female voices *are* easier to understand than male voices over the radio. And some males sound female on the radio.

      *BUT*, female voices and male voices aren't significantly different from each other in pitch. Women are sometimes higher pitched, but on the whole, they're about the same pitch as male voices. The difference between the two is resonance... males tend to have larger lung capacity, and with that more space to resonate the lower frequencies in their voice, which is why their voice sounds lower pitched. This is why female voices sound higher pitched than males, and it's why some male-to-female transgenders are able to sound completely female by learning how to resonate their voice (hint: the ones who don't sound naturally female are the ones who adjust the pitch of their voice).

      It's that lack of resonance that I think explains why females are easier to understand on the radio, and also why some males sound female on the radio. The radio isn't a very good medium for transferring something like resonance, because it's a single point of sound at the output, and usually not a particularly high end speaker at that... as a result, female voices sound more natural over the radio, and males sound distorted. It's not that they're *actually* distorted, just that they don't sound quite like we expect them to sound, and it causes a cognitive dissonance.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:54PM (#37811166)
    • Female voices span a greater range of the audio frequency spectrum than male voices. So a loud, narrowband background noise (e.g. engine/road/wind noise when driving on the freeway) has a greater chance of making it difficult to hear a male voice, while a female voice cuts right through.
    • Higher frequency sounds carry more energy for the same amplitude (volume) than low frequency sounds, and drop off more quickly with distance (gets absorbed more readily by the air - why foghorns are low-pitched). So the environment normally has less high frequency background noise.
    • Lower frequencies require bigger speakers, so it's easier to crank up the volume of a female voice using a smaller speaker.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @03:22PM (#37811364) Journal
      Your nerd "technical reasons" leave us no room for endless inflammatory arguments and trite gender sterotyping! How will we fill the empty silence now?
      • by migla (1099771)

        Your nerd "technical reasons" leave us no room for endless inflammatory arguments and trite gender sterotyping! How will we fill the empty silence now?

        We could have general discussions about the treatment and oppression or lack thereof of men women and hermaphrodites in different settings, like for example among geeks, the free software community or in general.

        The piece linked in my sig could be a conversation starter. ( http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/misc/22786_To_My_Someday_Daughter.html [starcitygames.com] )

        It's about p

        • by migla (1099771)

          sry... forgot to put quotes the quote, which was the first paragraph. Did not mean to plagiarize.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      Bull. I can't stand hearing some dude's voice on my devices. It pisses me off and I wouldn't even buy it. I think on this I'm not alone by any means.

    • by TeknoHog (164938)

      Female voices span a greater range of the audio frequency spectrum than male voices.

      Citation, please? I think the opposite would be true. First of all, consonants have generally high frequencies and wide spectra, so the low male vowels will make the whole spectrum wider. Secondly, harmonic frequencies are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency, so a male voice has more of these harmonics within the audible range. This is why deep male voices are good test material for audio systems. For example, lossy compression schemes will remove some of the harmonics, so female voices would be

  • Even assuming the 1990s were the middle ages, this is hard to believe. Firstly, nearly all navigational systems I've encountered here in Germany in the past ten years have female voices (if they have any), and the public transport system's automated announcements have been made by a female voice since forever.

  • I've read (though I can't quote sources, sorry) that the main reason computerised voices on navigation aids is female is the higher pitch. In jets where that sort of thing was pioneered it made the voice easier to distinguish clearly from the "background" noise of the engines without having to raise the volume, and presumably the difference is similar in cars.

    There may be cultural reasons too, of course, but this theory of a physical reason makes sense to me.
  • From my experience the gender of the synthetic voices has been male by default so I don't recognize this. The default voice on the old Amiga narrator.device was male. The default voice on loud-reading software used to be NeoSpeech Paul which has been one of the best English spoken computer narrator compilations out there.
    The GPS software I have used have both male and female voices in different languages to choose from, I have primarily used TomTom and Navigon. I cannot recall that I preferred one gender ov
  • I'd prefer Woodie Allen's voice.

  • by 7-Vodka (195504) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @03:09PM (#37811284) Journal

    Whoever wrote this story hasn't been listening to the republican debate. I want to poke out my eardrums whenever michelle bachman speaks, sorry, screams.

  • by kervin (64171) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @03:21PM (#37811360) Homepage

    Least for IVRs, on average people find male voices more intimidating than female voices. We also find female voices more nurturing than male voices on average.

    Other posters have already point this out. Suggestions ( facilitated by nurturing speaker ) then women are used. Commands ( facilitated by intimidation, i.e. subtle threat of punishment ) then males are more often used.

    Systems where you may need to intimidate the listener a bit will tend to use male voices. I kid you not, but in the future pay attention to how many collections operators or conflict desks sound 'black'. Also think of how often you spoke to a collections/conflict department and got a deep voiced male. Now compare that to how often you called the general operator and got a deep voiced male.

  • It seems to me though that most audiobooks are read by men, and of the ones I have read by women, I find the voice irritating. These are real people though, maybe its more to do with how male and female voices are synthed.

    • I've listened to a couple of librevoice recordings from gutenberg, and I think that the real reason is that women, generally, like to read books more than men, so they get the idea that they would like volunteer to read for an audio book as well.

      But, they're volunteers, not professional voice actors, so everything comes out as some kind of sing-songy poem read for kids. It's not that women are worse at voice acting than men, it's just that in the amateur reading department there are more of them. The mal

  • "Forvever Alone"
  • Sir David Frederick Attenborough.

  • Discussion is over. The primary demographic for BMW's is insecure middle aged men who can't even listen to a computer for fear of degrading their "Macho"! Soooo pathetic.
  • FTFS:

    after being flooded with calls from German men saying they refused to take directions from a woman.

    For real? Not only were these men pissed off about taking direction from a computerized woman's voice, but they also felt it necessary to call BMW to bitch about it. And then, BMW took these tools seriously enough to recall the cars? This just has to be a urban legend.

    [runs off to check snopes]

  • Because computer programmers are mostly male.
  • How come every xtranormal video has the male character teaching the uninformed and/or ignorant female character?

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