October 5, 2013

Original Siri voice decides it’s time she spoke up

Voice actor Susan Bennett of suburban Atlanta says she’s the person behind the iPhone.

The Washington Post

Apple’s Siri voice assistant may be privy to all your daily plans – but how much do you know about her, really?

Voice actor Susan Bennett made the television circuit Friday morning after coming forward to say that she is the person behind the original, American voice of Siri. Her role for the iPhone grew out of voice work that she recorded for a client eight years ago.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on Bennett’s remarks.

Bennett’s voice has also been featured in GPS devices and announcements for Delta Air Lines, which is how CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz first hit upon Bennett’s secret identity.

“I was tracking down the airport’s voices, and she, a voice of Delta terminals, was one of them,” Ravitz wrote on CNN’s website Friday morning. When Bennett gave Ravitz a rundown of her past work and mentioned she’d had some “interactive voice response” jobs in the past, Ravitz blurted out: “Hey, are you Siri?”

That prompted a gasp from Bennett, who lives in suburban Atlanta. After what Ravitz describes as a “short, panicked flurry of non-denials and non-confirmations,” Bennett swore the reporter to secrecy.

But after a report from the Verge website triggered speculation that a different voice actor was behind Siri, Bennett decided to put an end to the mystery.

Voice experts consulted by CNN appear confident that Bennett really is the voice of Siri, with one analyst saying that he’s “100 percent” sure about the match.

Bennett isn’t the only live human to come forward as the face behind the friendly computerized voices we’re speaking to more and more. When Siri first came out, voice actors from Britain and Australia were quick to proclaim themselves those countries’ versions of Siri.

Bennett told CNN that she first realized she was the voice of Siri in 2011, when Apple released the feature, but kept quiet about it because she wanted to stay private. Her son – who has told his phone, “Mom, stop!” while Siri gives him directions – and others have urged her to speak up. But while she often hears her voice in public places, she told Ravitz that she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.

“You have a certain anonymity, which can be very advantageous,” she said. “People don’t judge you by how you look. ... That’s been kind of freeing in a lot of ways.”

In the latest version of the iPhone’s mobile operating system, there is a new option for Siri’s voice – male, this time – so Bennett no longer has a monopoly on the voice that assists, and sometimes frustrates, the smartphone’s fans.

But at least we finally have one name behind the nickname.

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