Apple is adding two new Siri voices, as well as changing which “gender” of voice is set as the default, in the latest iOS 14.5 beta released today. The update means that, for Apple device users in the US at least, their new iPhone, iPad, or Mac will no longer automatically set itself to the feminine Siri voice for English speakers.
Different locations have different default voice types, and Apple also offers a selection of voices with lower and higher pitches, which can be adjusted in the settings of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. While the underlying data used to power those voices – and the suggestions and responses they give – is the same, there have been concerns in some quarters that female-identified defaults could be sexist.
A report by the United Nations in mid-2019, for example, argued that by making Alexa, Siri, and the Google Assistant sound like a woman by default in many countries, Amazon, Apple, and Google were contributing to ongoing gender bias. Preprogrammed responses, particularly to lewd or derogatory comments or requests, promote “submissiveness in the face of gender abuse, the UN study suggested. Indeed, they called out Apple’s assistant in particular.
“Siri’s ‘female’ obsequiousness – and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women – provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products, pervasive in the technology sector and apparent in digital skills education,” the authors of the report warned.
We’ve seen changes there since, with virtual assistants less likely to make jokey or coy responses to what might be considered rude questions or comments by users. However now Apple is changing how it handles voices completely, with iOS 14.5 – expected to be released this spring, and out in beta form today – presenting users with a choice instead.
Unlike the existing setup process on, say, a new iPhone, which asks users whether they want to turn the assistant on, iOS 14.5 will also add a step whereby owners are presented with four voice type choices. That includes two new voice types which Apple is adding.
“We’re excited to introduce two new Siri voices for English speakers and the option for Siri users to select the voice they want when they set up their device,” Apple told TechCrunch in a statement on the change. “This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”
Although Siri is not always given a female-coded voice by default, with the selection being country-dependent, this will be the first time the option to select it has been added to the iOS setup process. Those who are registered in the iOS Beta program should be able to download the new preview version now.