Regardless of how Siri sounds, it is not a person. It has no gender. The voice is just a tool used by the iPhone, iPad, and Mac to communicate with the user without needing to type and read the screen. Still, some think that having a female voice for an AI assistant is somehow sexist.
Apple’s voice assistant Siri no longer defaults to the English-speaking female voice in the latest iOS beta. Instead, iOS will prompt users to choose a voice when they set up the Siri feature. The AI assistant already has several to choose from, both male and female, with various accents, including American, Australian, British, Indian, Irish, and South African. In the US, Siri defaults to American Female.
CNN Business notes that the change comes a couple of years after a scathing 2019 United Nations report deeming the default female voice “sexist.” It claimed that having a female AI assistant by default perpetuates sexist stereotypes.
“In many communities, this reinforces commonly held gender biases that women are subservient and tolerant of poor treatment,” the report said. “What emerges is an illusion that Siri — an unfeeling, unknowing, and non-human string of computer code — is a heterosexual female, tolerant and occasionally inviting of male sexual advances and even harassment. It projects a digitally encrypted ‘boys will be boys’ attitude.”
Apple did not acknowledge the UN report, but it did change the default voice in some countries to the male counterpart.
In addition to making users choose a preference, Apple is adding two more voice options. Siri settings previously only had the six choices under the heading “Accents” (mentioned above) and two under the heading “Gender,” male and female. The headers now read “Variety” and “Voice,” respectively. Voice selections are numbered 1-4, eliminating the gender descriptor, but there are two male and female variations. You can get a sample of all four in the tweet above.