The Female Voices of AI-Powered Personal Assistants

AI-powered personal assistants have really become popular recently. One of the reasons is that voice recognition software has become so advanced that it understands almost everything that a person says and can capture nuances in human speech to properly reply back. In other words, talking with an AI-powered personal assistant has become almost equivalent to speaking with a human.  

However, one question still remains. Why are all of the voices of the AI personal assistants always female? A lot of experts, including the United Nations, have weighed in on the subject came up with some interesting explanations. Let’s take a look at some answers that can have been proposed so far and, in the end, you can decide which one to believe.

Speech Recognition

Female AI Voices Reinforce Gender Bias

According to a report by the United Nations, AI personal assistants have a female voice because, in our culture, there is a stereotype of women being “obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers”. Therefore, when someone is looking to buy a personal assistant, it would feel more natural for the robot to have a female voice. The report goes even further and notes that some of the IoT devices we use for smart homes are also referred to in the female tense such as “she” or “her”. These devices have no choice but to agree with their owners. This also falls in line with the trend of AI assistants being associated with females and having a female voice. 

Are Female Voices More Pleasant? 

Another possible reason could be simple biology. According to research published by Stanford University Professor, Clifford Naas, “It’s a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices”. This is the finding that he notes in his research titled “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships”. Big companies such as Google and Amazon conduct a lot of research even before starting the development phase of the product and most likely performed extensive research themselves and what was found by others. 

Simply from a marketing perspective, they determined that it would be best to go with a female voice to get as wide of a market share possible. There is one other interesting reason to explain why all of the AI voices are female, this time from a technical perspective. 

How Were the Original AI Personal Assistants Trained? 

When Google was first developing its AI-powered personal assistant, they originally wanted to create one with a female and male voice. The way the developed the product was by stitching together pieces of audio from various recordings. There was a speech recognition algorithm that would denote where one phrase ended and the next one began. For whatever reason, the voice recognition system worked better with the female voice. While they tried to perfect the system to work with male voice as well, they were not making enough progress to meet the release deadlines. The last thing they wanted to do was spend a year or more on development, only to realize that what they have is just not good enough. 

It is interesting that they chose this method of development because a lot of companies who develop voice recognition products use human annotators to determine where the phrases begin and end. They can also help the machine learn more fine details such as intent. Companies outsource this part of development to companies like Mindy Support, who have the necessary amount of in-house personnel to annotate the large amounts of text that voice recognition projects require. This saves them a lot of time and resources and allows them to focus more attention on developing their product. 

Even though there currently is no personal AI assistant with a male voice, you can expect there to be one in the future given that people’s tastes and preferences change over time. Also, technological obstacles such as the one faced by Google will no longer be an issue since a lot of investment is being made into AI and speech recognition software specifically. Therefore, if you are hoping to buy an AI-powered assistant with the voice of your favorite male Hollywood star, you can expect this to be available soon. 

February 12th, 2020

Mindy News Blog