Why Do Computers Always Have A Lady's Voice?

Some of gaming's most cunning foes have been computers. Think GlaDOS from Portal, or Shodan from System Shock 2. At least part of what makes them so memorable is that their artificial intelligence is brought to life by a cold, calculating, female voice.

Friendly artificial intelligence usually skews female as well. Anyone who's played Deus Ex: Human Revolution will know this, while Halo and Mass Effect are two other big franchises with prominent computers voiced by female actors.

Actually, when you think about it, a lot of real fake robot voices sound like fake women as well. Apple's new Siri, for one (at least she is for American users). Or just about any automated subway announcement system. Or default GPS navigator.

Ever wonder why this is? Why designers and engineers the world over choose a woman's voice for their systems and not a man's? A great piece on CNN seeks to answer this question for the ages.

Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass has an idea. "It's much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes," he says. "It's a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices."

While this is a primal theory, there are more historical ones too, such as the fact early telephonists and aircraft navigation aides were voiced by women, creating a precedent.

Silicon Valley analyst Tim Bajarin has a cooler idea, though: He reckons HAL, the evil computer from 2001, is the reason most artificial voices are female. He was so evil, and so memorable, that he scared companies off using a male voice. "A lot of tech companies stayed away from the male voice because of HAL," he said. "I've heard that theory tossed around multiple times."

Why computer voices are mostly female [CNN, via PC Gamer]


Comments

    Really interesting article, especially the original CNN piece.

    Or that computer programmers would like to talk to a girl once in a while. Even if she's made from silicon.

      As opposed to the girls you find in most clubs and bars?

    The suits voice in Crysis was male. Although in the first game you could switch it to female.

      Its funny that, I always changed the suit voice to female.

        Me too, its more soothing. :)

        I'd say that it's probably a latent component of the mother/baby bonding process. We developed hearing our mother's voice most of all.

        But also, as has been pointed out by many respondants to he article; there's still many a male AI out there.

        @Portal2 fans, his name was Wheatley.

    The first Deus Ex had two AIs and one hybrid AI. All male voices.

    Cant say I buy the idea of HAL scaring companies off using a male voice. 2001 may be an iconic movie, but it's quite dated and there are a large number of people now who have never seen or heard of the movie, let alone see the character as all that threatening. This isn't a critique of the film, it's just that the general psychology of pop culture moves on to more current media trends. I doubt that we'll see a surge in male-voiced AIs just because of Glados or Shodan. Let's be honest - female voices just sound nicer :)

      ^ this
      and besides this article is kind of weird, what about the other robot in portal 2 that takes over...sorry for spoilers but COME ON you've played it by now..

        i haven't D:

        *runs off crying trying to forget*

          Me either, lucky I gleaned over the sentence.
          Seriously, use SPOILER TAGS.

          Also, I put off buying the game because there are other games that are much harder to get that deserve my money first.

            sorry guys i feel bad now haha dont worry the ending is the real gem in that game, like WOW blew my mind you have to play it! i finished it in 2 days, time constraints are nothing :P

      Suzy Bieber-fan and Molly Mom-friend think computers are magic and haven't seen a movie that was made before the year 2000, sure.
      But I'm willing to bet good money that the guys and gals actually *creating* the technology and making the decisions about devices and the voices that go into them have all heard of 2001: A Space Odyssey and have also seen it at least once before. :-P

    Hasselhoff's Night Rider car had male voice... and when the Hoff's done it, no one else can.

    Computer voice in Super Metroid is unisex.

    Just use Stephen Fry for everything.

      I second this motion.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHxXcPC-PcM

    Uh, System Shock 2 ALSO had a male computer, XERXES.

    http://www.cyberpunkreview.com/wp-content/uploads/xerxes.jpg

    To be fair, he might/might not be evil.
    (Spoiler borderline. Look up at own risk.)

    Speaking of Portal 2, funny how there are AI of both genders... :P

    "Minor Lacerations Detected"
    "Major Fracture Detected"
    "User Death Imminent"
    "beep beep booooooo-"

    I'd rather a vaguely attractive feminine voice guide me into the afterlife than a innappropriately smug male one. :-P

    Why do all the male computer voices sound condescending and smug, but when female computer voices actually *are* condescending and smug I am able to tolerate it. I assume it'd be different if I were a woman...

      One of the first things in Crysis 2 was to look for a setting to change the suit voice to female, only to find there wasn't. This is why the game sucked :P

    The automated warning voice in planes is female... pilot's have historically referred to her as Bitching Betty.

    I can safely say that one of the most creepy 'AI' voices in any game is the MALE voice in ME2's Overlord DLC.

    Quietpleasemakeitstop

    Use Christopher Lee's voice. No one can complain about that.

    This makes me think of that quote from Tomorrow Never Dies:

    Q: Thought you would pay more attention to a female voice.
    (Welcome! Please fasten seat belt.)
    Bond: I think we've met.

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