Apple Is Adding Two New American English Voices for Siri

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch:

Apple is adding two new voices to Siri’s English offerings, and eliminating the default “female voice” selection in the latest beta version of iOS. This means that every person setting up Siri will choose a voice for themselves and it will no longer default to the voice assistant being female, a topic that has come up quite a bit with regards to bias in voice interfaces over the past few years.

As Panzarino notes, in some countries, like the U.K., Siri’s default voice is male, not female. So “Why is Siri’s default voice female?” is not applicable worldwide. And my hunch has always been that the defaults in each country were selected by perceived quality. But making this an explicit choice during setup is the right answer — take the question of cultural bias out of the equation.

I believe that this is the first of these assistants to make the choice completely agnostic with no default selection made. This is a positive step forward as it allows people to choose the voice that they prefer without the defaults bias coming into play. The two new voices also bring some much needed variety to the voices of Siri, offering more diversity in speech sound and pattern to a user picking a voice that speaks to them. […]

“We’re excited to introduce two new Siri voices for English speakers and the option for Siri users to select the voice they want when they set up their device,” a statement from Apple reads. “This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”

Here’s a screen recording I made of the new lineup of voices. Both new voices are very good. Interestingly, in addition to adding the two new voices, the Siri preferences no longer label any of the voices as “male” or “female” — they’re just “Voice 1” … “Voice 4”. That makes it harder to remember which one is which, but, it opens the door to nonbinary voices in a future update. There’s no reason Siri’s voice needs to be decidedly male or female. The diversity of the two new voices is subtle, but they don’t label them as such. You either hear it or don’t. The same could be true for the gender of future new voices.

I wonder too if the order is randomized? There doesn’t seem to be a pattern to how mine are ordered, and randomizing the order would further eliminate bias before each user makes their choice. Update: I checked with Apple and they confirmed: the order of voices is randomized (voices 1 and 4 are the existing ones, 2 and 3 are the new ones). It’s the same order on everyone’s device, but the order was chosen to mix old and new.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021