Who is Siri?
If you own an Apple product, chances are you are familiar with Apple’s device assistant, Siri. The first Apple device that included the Siri feature was the iPhone 4s in 2011. Siri was one of the first automated speech programs to sound human – or human compared to the robotic, monotone systems used in previous years. Therefore, Siri was considered very futuristic technology. However, it wasn’t as futuristic as some people thought. The voice of the original Siri was actually recorded in July of 2005, a whole six years before Siri’s debut. At the time Siri was recorded, most people couldn’t even think about the possibility of a phone system that included an interactive personality.
So, who is Siri? Who sat in a recording studio for four hours every day recording phrases for Siri? The voice of the original Siri belongs to a woman named Susan Bennett. Susan is a voice-over artist who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Voice-over acting is the activity of recording sounds to be used as the voices of faceless, cartoon, informative etc. characters. It requires skill to morph your voice into different sounds, and in some cases speak with immense articulation or equality. Voice and sound work runs in Susan’s family, as her second husband is a sound engineer.
During Susan’s employment with Apple in 2005, she was told that the gig was for a text-to-speech system. She was in a sound booth for four hours a day, recording sentences and phrases. She found the experience to be “long, tedious, and boring,” as stated in her interview with NextShark in October, 2014. She did not, however, have to record every phrase used by Siri like many people think. The script she was given consisted of the phrases that contained as many combinations of sounds as possible. When Siri needed to pronounce a new phrase, Susan’s original recordings would be melded together to create the correct syllables.
An occupational hazard of being a voice-over artist is introversion. These artists spend hours in a recording booth and often work from home. Becoming the famous voice of Siri was a big change for Susan because of this. The day iPhone 4s came out, Susan’s voice was suddenly in everyone’s purses and pockets. She received no notification about the use of her voice in Siri, but her husband recognized her voice on his new iPhone. Everyone was asking who Siri was, and it took her two years to reveal herself to CNN with an interview on October 4th, 2013.
With the release of the iOS 7 operating system on September 18th 2013, Susan’s voice was no longer used as Siri. Susan says she knew it wouldn’t always be her – she realized that people would soon be offered many different choices, and she was correct in that prediction. Many people think that the voice was changed because part of the element of fun in a responsive, humorous, and coy character is mystery. Once Susan was out in the open, everyone knew about her, and Siri was no longer a whimsical, technologically advanced character, but a human voice mixed together.
Although Susan Bennett only got to be Siri for about two years, she gained many new experiences, an email relationship with Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), and the bragging rights of being the first Siri.