Apple’s latest iOS beta gives Siri a new LGBTQ+ voice

24 Feb 2022

Image: © sdx15/Stock.adobe.com

Apple said the new voice was recorded by a member of the LGBTQ+ community and hopes users have options to choose ‘a voice that speaks to them’.

Apple’s assistant software Siri has a new voice in the latest beta of the upcoming iOS 15.4, which is reported to sound gender neutral.

The new American voice is called ‘Voice 5’ on the user interface, but iOS developer Steve Moser said on Twitter that its filename is called ‘Quinn’.

Future Human

Apple confirmed to Axios that the new voice option was recorded by a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but did not share any further details.

“We’re excited to introduce a new Siri voice for English speakers, giving users more options to choose a voice that speaks to them,” Apple said in a statement to Axios. “Millions of people around the world rely on Siri every day to help get things done, so we work to make the experience feel as personalised as possible.”

Issues around gendered technology

First released in 2011 with the iPhone 4s, Siri marked a major milestone for voice technology but the popularised ‘feminine’ voice for Siri sparked a debate on sexism embedded in assistive technology.

Last March, Apple stopped defaulting to the female-sounding voice for Siri. Instead, iOS users are prompted to decide whether they would prefer a male or female voice on set-up. The update also added two new voices for Siri.

“This is a continuation of Apple’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in,” the company said following last year’s update.

As the makers of voice assistants strive to create ever more human-sounding voices, they have been sparking questions around the gendering of assistive technology, what that says about society’s existing gender biases, and how these tools can either exacerbate or address these issues.

In 2019, a group of linguists, technologists and sound designers sought to address some of the concerns around gendered AI with Q, a genderless voice for assistive technologies.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com