Voice-controlled AI-powered assistants are pretty smart these days, but they didn’t exactly start out that way. They weren’t particularly smart about the way they sounded, at least not in the beginning. Almost all of these smart assistants, regardless of company or name, started out with a female voice before finally allowing users to pick from a variety of voices. The lone holdout among the major AI assistants is Alexa, but Amazon is finally letting users pick a male-sounding voice, eight years after the assistant debuted.
There might be scientific studies on how certain female voices may sound more pleasing to listeners of any gender, but there might also be psychological and ethical implications in portraying those smart assistants as female, at least by default. Although they still default to female voices, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and even Samsung Bixby have other voices users can choose from to suit their preferences. Since it launched in 2013, however, Amazon has kept Alexa’s predominantly female.
From time to time, though, Amazon does give Alexa other voices, often as a gimmick or time-limited marketing stunts. In fact, Amazon introduced Shaquille O’Neal’s and Melissa McCarthy’s voices to that list just last week. It turns out that Amazon silently added another non-celebrity voice option, this time a more male-sounding voice.
The Ambient discovered the new voice option along with a new wake word name for Alexa. Alexa can already be configured to respond to “Computer” or “Echo” or even “Amazon,” but now users can also switch to a more gender-neutral “Ziggy” name to trigger the voice assistant.
These changes, which are strangely not highly publicized, go a long way in correcting stereotypes about these assistants and was a long time coming. It isn’t perhaps by coincidence that Amazon continues to unofficially refer to Alexa as female despite its own official documentation insisting that it has no gender at all since it is just an AI.