Siri speaks: the human behind Siri's voice tells her story

Atlanta-based voice actress Susan Bennett revealed to CNN on Thursday she is the voice who answered when you asked, 'Where is the nearest dry cleaner?'

Reuters
Tim Cook discusses Siri, the voice-activated iPhone app, at an Apple event in March.

Ever feel like Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant on iPhones, doesn’t sound like what you would expect?

Perhaps that’s because Siri is actually a Susan.

Susan Bennett, that is. Atlanta-based voice actress Bennett revealed to CNN Thursday that she is the voice of Apple’s trademark voice-control system. Though Apple and Nuance, the voice recognition company believed to be behind Siri, declined to comment, audio experts confirm that Bennett’s voice is the one accompanying millions of iPhones around the world.

According to the CNN report, Bennett originally did the recordings for ScanSoft (which later became Nuance), a software company looking for voice recordings for a new project focused on speech construction. For an entire month in July 2005, she recorded more than four hours of speech per day (a tiring process that she says may have led to Siri sounding as if she has a bit of an attitude).

She didn’t think of the assignment again until October 2011, when a colleague got the brand-new iPhone 4S, equipped with Siri. Her colleague asked if the voice was Bennett’s, so Bennett took a listen.

"Oh, I knew," she said. "It's obviously me. It's my voice,” she told CNN.

Listening to the interview, you can definitely hear the similarity between Bennett’s voice and Siri, that is if Bennett’s voice was deconstructed to vowels and syllables, then stretched to different pitches and speeds.

“These snippets were ... synthesized in a process called concatenation that builds words, sentences, paragraphs,” according to the CNN article. “And that is how voices like hers find their way into GPS and telephone systems.”

CNN confirmed Bennett’s voice is Siri with an executive from GM Voices, who worked with ScanSoft, as well as an audio expert (who confirmed with a colleague). Apple and Nuance declined to comment, as the voices in voice-recognition technology services are usually kept secret.

Bennett was motivated to go public with her celebrity voice after tech website The Verge posted an article on voice-recognition software that hinted that the identity of Siri was actually Allison Dufty, another voice-over actress, who vehemently denied the claims.

But now Bennett's voice won’t be answering when you ask, “Where's the best Thai food restaurant nearby?”

The updated iOS 7 iPhone system uses a different voice for Siri, as well as a male voice, whose identities are unknown. But that doesn’t mean Bennett is going away. She has been in the voice talent business since the 1970s, so you can hear her on everything from Delta Airlines to First National Bank’s ATM machines.

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