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Meet the voice behind Siri

Wed, 10/09/2013 - 2:44pm
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

Internet, meet Siri. Siri, meet the internet.

Surprise! It’s not really Siri. Obviously, Siri is a computer program on the iPhone, but Susan Bennett is the voice behind the virtual assistant.

Bennett says the sassy, somewhat martyred, voice was a product of some July 2005 recording sessions for GM Voices. The company was working for a software company called ScanSoft that was constructing a speech database and looking for the perfect woman's voice. From there, Bennett read "nonsensical" phrases for four hours a day for an entire month, which eventually became the vocabulary of Siri. In October 2011, she found out she was iPhone-famous from a friend who recognized her voice on the phone.

There has been some speculation over who had the voice behind Siri since the voice debuted. Allison Dufty,  another voice actress, was once rumored to be behind the virtual assitant, but Dufty quickly debunked the theory on her blog. Both the British Siri, Jon Briggs, and the Austrailian Siri, Karen Jacobsen, have come forward in the past to reveal their identities, but Bennett hung back because she was unsure if she wanted to deal with the limelight or the potential legal issues. For the record, Apple hasn't confirmed that Bennett is Siri, but GM Voices confirmed it's her voice and her lawyer all but confirmed it.

It’s not Bennet's first brush with machine-voice fame. She was the voice of First National’s ATM as “Tillie the All Time Teller.” Apparently, First National was nervous their customers would be scared away from the bank by the faceless ATM and decided a human would make the ads less intimidating. 

In the videos, Bennet sang a song to the tune of “If You Knew Susie”:

“Oh, if you knew Tillie like I know Tillie
Oh, oh, oh, what a girl!
She works to please me, to make life easy
Oh, oh, she makes my banking smooth and breezy
Day or nighttime, I don’t care
When I need money, I know my all-time teller’s there!
If you knew Tillie, like I know Tillie
Oh, oh, oh!”

She’s also been the voice of a few GPS units and telephone systems. She even does the tag lines in the airport, “Thank you for using Delta Airlines.” [Between my iPhone and my GPS, the amount of times I’ve yelled at this poor woman is probably astounding.]  Her voice is, quite literally, everywhere.

At the end of the day, Bennett says hearing her voice on the phone is a little bit creepy, but that she got used to it. Thankfully, Siri and her human voice are now friends.

I feel like I have a personal connection with this woman. Siri helps me with directions, phone calls, Googling random bits of information, setting reminders, and debunking my dad’s “fun facts.” Once, she even sang me “If I Only Had a Brain” while I was stuck in traffic. Though it's cool to get a "peek behind the curtain", I liked having a faceless assistant. Now when she makes me mad—and she does occasionally—I’ll feel like I’m fighting with Susan instead of Siri.

 

 

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