“So you didn’t know Siri could walk,” said Susan Bennett as she strode across the stage. Bennett, a 40-year resident of Sandy Springs, was speaking to audience members at a Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Sept. 9.
Bennett is best known as the original Apple iPhone voice of ‘Siri,’ a virtual assistant application on the device.
“Digital voices are everywhere,” she said. “They are in our cellphones, they are on our tablets.”
Siri, Bennett said, is special because earlier digital voices were more robotic and were not interactive. “That’s what made the original voice of Siri so iconic,” she said. “She was the first [digital] voice that sounded human and you could interact with her. She had a personality. She had a bit of an edge to her, a bit of an attitude and she also had a sense of humor.”
Bennett said that a lot of people think digital voices are machine-generated. Machines can speed up, slow down and compress voices, but “the basic sound has to come from a human, at least so far,” she said.
Bennett, whose voice has been used by Delta Air Lines, Ford, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Macy’s and other well-known companies, said she actually made the Siri recordings for the Sirius satellite network, which Apple later acquired. She recorded the voice of Siri in July 2005 for four hours a day, five days a week, a process she described as “very tedious” because all of the words had to be read exactly the same way to remain consistent.
On Oct. 4, 2011, Siri was revealed to the world on the iPhone 4s, but Bennett didn’t reveal herself as Siri until the same day two years later.
She said she was surprised her voice was used for Siri, and didn’t realize it until a friend emailed her, asking “Isn’t this you?”
Bennett said at first she was hesitant to go public as Siri because she didn’t want to lose the anonymity that voiceover artists have when auditioning for jobs. She said voice artists are chosen on their ability alone without having to reveal aspects such as what they look like or their age.
“When you audition you are being chosen on your voice alone,” she said. “I knew when I revealed myself as Siri I’d be giving that up.”
Bennett was later replaced as Siri when the iPhone’s Operating System 7 was released. [The new voice] sounds a little bit more generic, a little less sassy and she definitely is trying to appeal to younger people because Siri now says ‘LOL.’”
Bennett predicted that technology will advance beyond Siri.
“You’re going to have a lot more voices to choose from,” she said. “They’re going to sound even more and more human, and they’re also going to be programmed to understand you better. . . . As we progress toward more art intelligence these digital voices are going to be able to predict what you want before you even ask for it, particularly in reference to things that you might want to buy.”