Apple adds two new voices to Siri’s English offering, eliminating default “female voice” choices in the latest beta of iOS. This means that each person who sets up Siri will choose a voice for themselves, and it will no longer be standard for the voice assistant to be a woman, a topic that has come up quite a bit in terms of bias in voice interfaces in recent years.
The beta version should be available now and available to program participants.
I think this is the first of these assistants to make the choice completely agnostic with no standard choice. This is a positive step forward, as it allows people to choose the voice they prefer without the standard distortion entering the picture. The two new voices give the Siri voices a little coveted variety, and give more diversity in speech sound and pattern to a user who chooses a voice that speaks to them.
In some countries and languages, Siri is already a male voice. But this change makes the choice users for the first time.
“We are pleased to introduce two new Siri voices for English speakers and the ability for Siri users to choose the voice they want when setting up the device,”
The two new voices use source talent recordings that are then run through Apple’s neural text to the speech engine, making the voices flow more organically through sentences that are actually generated on the go.
I’ve heard the new voices, and they sound pretty amazing, with natural bending and smooth transitions. They will be a welcome addition to the choice for iOS users. I’ll post some examples here after the beta drops.
This latest beta upgrade also upgrades the Siri voices in Ireland, Russia and Italy to Neural TTS, bringing the total votes using the new technology to 38. Siri now handles 25 billion requests per month on over 500 million units and supports 21 languages in 36 country.
The new voices are available to English-speaking users worldwide, and Siri users can choose a personal preference for the voice in 16 languages.
It seems very likely that these two new votes will only be the first expansion in Siri’s vote choice. More diversity in speech, tone and regional dialect can only be a positive development for how inclusive smart devices feel. In recent years, we have finally begun to see some movement from Amazon, Google and Apple to aggressively correct situations where assistants have revealed bias in their answers to questions using negative or violent language. Improvements there, as well as in matters of social justice issues and general improvements in accessibility, are incredibly important, as we continue to see an explosion of voice or speech interfaces. Such choices matter, especially on a scale of hundreds of millions of people.
The article has been updated to note that in some countries and languages, Siri is currently standard as a male voice.