Siri’s voice, the voice of Apple’s virtual assistant heard by millions each day through the iPhone 4S, was a voice without a face until recently. According to CNN on Oct. 4, it was a CNN reporter who recognized Siri’s voice on the other end of the phone during an interview.
CNN was doing a story on the busiest airports in the world and she was talking to the people who supply the voices in the airport terminals. Jessica Ravitz was interviewing Susan Bennett, who is the voice of the Delta terminal when her voice sparked a question.
When she asked Bennett what other work she had done, Bennett said she had done some IVR work. When the reporter asked her what IVR stood for, Bennett told her “interactive voice response.” The interviewer blurted out, “hey are you Siri?”
After some hesitation, along with a bit of panic in her voice, Bennett didn't offer the interviewer a denial. The reporter realized she had just met the woman who supplies Siri’s voice. After promising to keep Siri's voice origin a secret, this CNN reporter stayed true to her word, she never divulged a thing about the identity of the person who supplied Siri’s voice.
Jump ahead a months later and Bennett contacts the reporter because she’s ready to go public and finally give Siri’s voice a face. She also wanted to correct some misinformation that was swirling around in the media.
The Verge posted a video last month titled “How Siri found its voice,” and that video gave the credit for Siri’s voice to one of the most famous voice over personalities in the business, Allison Duffy. Despite Duffy taking to the Internet to deny that she supplied Siri’s voice, the rumor was out there and it wasn’t going away.
That is until the real voice of Siri, Susan Bennett, came forward. The women who have supplied the voices of Siri for other parts of the world have long since claimed their words by showing their face to the public, but Bennett never had the urge to do this.
The UK and Australian Siri voices have come out from behind the speakers to be seen, but the American Siri, who is Bennett, didn’t have a need to. She was fine with being an unknown star, that is until Duffy was mistakenly named as Siri’s voice and was trying to deny it to the masses.
There’s no written certificate or document to prove that Bennett is the voice of Siri, as the contract with the voice artist never said where her voice would be used when she taped the words that are used by Siri. She did this back in 2005 and the contract simply stated that her voice would be used in a "database to construct speech."
Four hours every day for a solid year, Bennett sat in her home recording booth in Georgia and spoke strange abstract sentences into the microphone as she read them from the script provided to her by the client. It wasn’t until the iPhones 4S was sold to the masses in October of 2011 that she realized she had provided the voice of Siri.
Bennett’s colleague called her to tell her that she sounded an awful lot like Siri, the virtual assistant for Apple when the phone first came out. Bennett then pulled up the Apple website on her computer and listened to the Siri voice herself and realized, yes, this is in fact her voice.
While Bennett, her friends and family had no doubt that she was the Siri voice, there was still no written or even verbal evidence of this from the folks at Apple. Voice experts who have analyzed Siri’s voice against Bennett’s voice have no doubt. CEO of GM Voices, Marcus Graham, is one of several experts in voices who said:
"Most female voices are kind of thin, but she's got a rich, full voice," he said. "Yes, she's the voice of Siri. ... She's definitely the voice."
He was one of several experts who agreed that Bennett is the voice of Siri. Now that the IOS 7 is the nation’s newest technology, Susan Bennett passes the torch to a new Siri, one that will probably remain anonymous for quite some time. Her reign as Siri comes to an end, just as she steps out of the technology darkness and claims her fame.
Susan and her family have had some weird times when the voice on the other end of the phone was her. She did the voice for banks, airlines and most anyplace you’d find an interactive voice response.
Susan said it was weird taking to herself. Her son said that when he was in college it was bizarre calling the bank to hear his mother tell him in her automated voice that he had $4 left in his account. He jokingly refers to himself as “Son of Siri.”
Susan Bennett had no idea that in 2005 when she did this voice for a client that eight years later it would become one of the most famous automated voices of the era. In 2005 she was supplying words for a phone that wasn’t even invented as of yet. She won’t pretend that she doesn’t mind her reign as Siri is over, but she knew it would end someday.