A voice that moves us forward

Remember back in the day when Sat Navs were first a thing, and choosing an accent for it was the height of entertainment on a long journey? Having Ken the Australian telling you to “chuck a u-ey” made it a lot less frustrating when you went the wrong way!

You could also choose whether you heard a male or female voice, something which you can still do today with some digital assistants such as Siri. Others like Alexa or Cortana have pre-determined female voices. However, that binary choice often isn’t relatable for people who don’t identify as cisgender – it doesn’t accurately represent the complexities of gender.

Creative agency Virtue picked up on this and have created the first gender-neutral voice for AI. They played around with pitch and tone until reaching what was deemed a neutral frequency of 145 – 175 hertz. A lot of people are hoping this will go some way to fight sex bias in smart assistants, so we chatted to our Artificial Optimisation Intelligence (AIO) team to get their thoughts…

They noted how people have been studying and talking about the use of gendered voices in AI for years (even Star Trek’s 80s computer had a female voice – Majel Barrett). As we use AI and voice interactions more and more, it’s only natural that we’ll start challenging the standard of more traditionally feminine-sounding AI assistants with greater frequency.

However, AIO Analyst Alex pointed out that the issue of using a male or female voice isn’t the only gender concern when it comes to AI. He said: “Not only is there bias in terms of having gendered outputs, but there also needs to be serious consideration into how training data has allegedly been taken from male voices, which can cause issues like Alexa recognising female voices less often.”

Neill, our Head of Artificial Intelligence Optimisation, added that digital assistants’ ability to recognise accents of people who aren’t stereotypically middle-class white Americans who work in technology is questionable too – but that’s an issue for another day!

As for whether they think Virtue’s gender-neutral voice will take off? Neill said: “Up to this point, companies have been driven by what they think or what their studies have shown them will perform best for voice interaction, so it’s nice to see a challenger out there that can push towards a voice for all, rather than just accepting what is currently believed to work. Whether it takes off or not will depend on whether wider society’s backing of it outweighs the benefit corporations think that current gendered voices have.”

If you want to find out more about how our AIO team could help your business grow, get in touch with us here, or come and hear Neill speak at Leeds Loves Search on Thursday 25th April.

Written by:

Leah Groom


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