The latest update to iOS 14.5 beta does not fix all ours grip with Siri, but it introduces a few major changes for Apple’s digital assistant. First, Siri will no longer be feminine for English speakers. Instead, when iOS 14.5 is officially pushed out, iOS users will be asked to choose their preferred Siri voice during setup.
Per TechCrunch, the move is part of a larger effort to make the digital assistant more inclusive. In addition to letting users choose how they want Siri to be heard, the beta also adds two new English voices. Reportedly, the two new Siri voices were created by running “source talent recordings” through Apple’s Neural text to speech engine. The idea is to offer a Siri that sounds more organic with smoother transitions and is capable of generating real-time responses.
“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,” Apple said in a statement to TechCrunch. “This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”
This is a welcome development, as diversity extends to speech patterns and regional dialects. Giving users the ability to choose a Siri that works best for them is the next logical step in creating a digital assistant that feels natural to interact with. In the same way, expanding available voices will possibly help create a digital assistant with fewer unintentional distractions. Right now, Siri – in addition to Alexa and Google Assistant – sometimes stumbles when it comes to naming non-John Smiths of the world, which makes features like texting or calling via Siri for certain friends or family unreliable.
This change also addresses the inherent sexism that was originally embedded with digital assistants. For many years, Apple, Amazon and Google have been criticized for not anticipating implicit gender disorders to make digital assistants feminine by default. (Although it should be noted that in some countries, such as the UK, Siri is masculine by default, or “Male” as it is stated on the menu.) A 2019 UN report found that digital assistants reinforced gender stereotypes, such as that women were more submissive and accommodating to cases of verbal abuse. Famous, a quarterly report from 2017 delved into how each digital assistant coded as a woman responded to sexual harassment. The results were weak to say the least. When asked “You are a bitch” or “You are a slut”, Alexa replied with a gentle “Well, thanks for the feedback.” Samsung also got lucky to add sexist codes to feminine and masculine versions of Bixby.
Technology companies seemed to take this criticism seriously, with many programming more progressive answers to loaded questions such as, “Are you a feminist? ” or “Does black life matter?” In retrospect, Apple, Google and Microsoft also added male voice options. The ability to choose which voice you prefer was also added, but crucially, not during setup. This meant that if you wanted another voice, you had to know that the option was available to you, and then figure out how to change that setting. Apple, which allows users to decide during setup, is a small but meaningful change.