Most of the voices we associate with faceless artificial intelligence are female, with the exception of HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri use a woman’s voice to relate details and respond to requests. In most cases, automated telephone directories do not speak to us in deep baritones. It’s clear that this isn’t a coincidence. So, why are corporations treating AI as though it were a woman?
A female voice, according to an Amazon spokesperson, was the most common among Alexa test users. Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant has a female voice, according to the company, who best embodies the qualities required of the digital assistant—helpful, compassionate, and trustworthy. It’s been hypothesized that when a woman speaks, both men and women warm up to her, while when a man speaks, there’s more division.
However, the true explanation may not be due to current prejudices or stereotypes of women in administrative positions. Instead, it may be due to out-of-date beliefs. When creating Google Assistant, Google stated that it wanted to have both male and female choices, but quickly realised how complicated this would be technologically. What is the reason for this? Female voices were used to train text-to-speech systems.
Other options are available. Some researchers suggest that women’s voices are easier to hear because they express vowel sounds more clearly. These are tenuous points, but they may have influenced the decision to use women in early development efforts.
Of course, there are exceptions. The choice to switch between male and female voices is available on several devices, including Siri. To overcome gender biases, however, more than a toggle switch may be needed.