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In Speculative Fiction
, computers can speak. It certainly beats having the audience read a computer screen. Most of the time the voice is female (theories on why vary, see below) to emphasize the "otherness" of the A.I.'s
nature, but there are many examples of male and gender neutral synthesized voices. Generally, they all carry a pleasant (if somewhat dull) monotone. If it should ever become (or started out with) a Creepy Monotone
, watch out.
The gender will vary depending on the intentions of the computer. If it is designed to be utilitarian, military like, then it will be male. If it is supposed to be very user friendly for the tech-ignorant
, then it will be female. The Star Trek
franchise even shows this evolution: in the original series the female voice was always used when accessing encyclopedic information
. The movies were more military-like, so it used a male voice. The Next Generation
era computers were simply the most user friendly computer possible short of reading your thoughts.
This has been referred to as the most common sci-fi female character archetype. That is, since Most Writers Are Male
, and the Sci-Fi Ghetto
is particularly associated with male fans, there are a disproportionate number of male characters
but somehow the idea of the female computer has gotten lodged into the collective unconscious. Probably not coincidentally, these A.I.'s will have long, largely nonsensical descriptions whose acronyms 'just happen' to spell
feminine names. For example, the Computer-Human Liaison Officer Executable, or CHLOE for short.
It's a bit deeper than a simple case of Most Writers Are Male
. On a primitive level, a sudden unfamiliar female voice doesn't register as a physical threat, whereas a deep male voice does. That's why male voices in interface systems tend to be higher-pitched rather than in the James Earl Jones
registers. They aren't as off-putting.
The tendency toward female voices may stem from Real Life
: Companies initially hired teenage boys as telephone operators, but by 1900 the vast majority of them were female. Not only were the voices soothing, but the women tended not to be, well, hormonal balls of rage. It is also possible that the ability to pay women less than men was another added benefit.
Also worth mentioning: the naval tradition of giving ships feminine names, as well as giving abstract ideas a female Anthropomorphic Personification
(Reason, Liberty, Justice, Rumor, the goddess of wisdom, etc.) is very, very old. Stands to reason it would extend to giving spaceships female names
, and since the computer is the "brain" of the ship...
See also: Electronic Speech Impediment
Feminine Voice Examples
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Anime and Manga
- Persocoms in Chobits, but those have female computer bodies, too...
- The voice of Raising Heart, the first Device we encounter in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, is that of a female's. Of course, Bardiche, the next Device we see, averts this by being having a male voice. Same with the next Device. And the next Device. And the next Device... as of the third Season, straight usages of this trope seems to be in a minority, with only Raising Heart, Mach Caliber and Blitz Caliber, Kerykeion and Storm Raider having female voices.
- In Voices of a Distant Star, the computer speaks in an English accent. An unusual choice of a female voice given it's a Humongous Mecha.
- Aida from Squadron Supreme.
- Motherboard from Wildguard who can store up to 10 picabytes and, when she was younger, was larger than most rooms.
- The Alien series, to which Sigourney Weaver's casting in WALL•E was an ironic Shout-Out. (In Alien, she once screamed at onboard computer MU-TH-R, "You bitch!") The countdown-expositing computer voice in Aliens was also female.
- In The Andromeda Strain, the computer in the secret underground base plays pre-recorded messages spoken by a... pleasant female voice. A minor subversion: The voice actually belongs to a 60-year-old woman.
- Eagle Eye: ARIIA.
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix there was a voice like this speaking for the elevator at the Ministry of Magic.
- The guidance system in James Bond's BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies. ("Don't let her push you around.")
- Q even comments that hopefully James will pay attention due to the voice being female.
- The computer doing the countdown to the escape pod self-destructing in WALL•E.
- Played straight in several other places in WALL•E too, but again averted by AUTO (since, after all, he's an homage to HAL).
- Logan's Run. The voice of the Master Computer is female; the director believing that the male Sandmen would feel more comfortable with such a voice.
- Sunshine (2007). The voice of Icarus is female.
- In Spaceballs - calmly announces the Self Destruct Sequence in the Megamaid/Spaceball 01 craft. A little slow to remind of a cancellation button and teases over the number seven. Remains polite to the very end, wishing people to "have a nice day" before exploding.
- Gallaxhar's ship computer in Monsters vs. Aliens has a feminine voice, who can also be wrong about the self-destruct timer.
- VIKI in I, Robot.
- The computer in Fortress Two was female with a New Zealand accent, just one of the many unintentionally funny aspects of that film. It's probably funnier if you're from New Zealand or Australia.
- Robert A. Heinlein's works:
- There's a subversion of sorts in one of Roger Zelazny's novels where the computer is actually wired to a woman's brain - and it'll only give him the information he wants if he has sex with her (and can manage to keep her satisfied while he's asking all of his questions).
- Averted in one of Anne McCaffrey's Acorna books. A male character who spends long stretches of time with no one but his cat and his ship's computer changed its voice from the default female, because apparently hearing a female voice made him stop at whorehouses too often.
- In Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series, the voice of the serv-machine AIs is feminine, by default, for male pilots and masculine for females. In fact, thanks to the pilots associating voice with gender, the AIs themselves, thanks to the neural links, begin to take on more sexualized characteristics in their personalities. A number of novels revolve around radical cases when an AI would somehow end up in a human body (through a brain implant) and become the pilot's romantic partner.
- The Star Trek: New Frontier books gave a shoutout to the original Enterprise computer voice when Morgan Primus, who was also Number One in the pilot (played by Majel Barret) is destroyed and transports her mind into the ship's computers, only marginally changing the voice.
Live Action TV
- SARAH in Eureka, the main hero's smart house. And her voice is actually an alteration of her creator, the Plucky Comic Relief Butt Monkey computer nerd character. Freaky coming from Fargo.
- He wanted to use Sarah Michelle Gellar's voice, but she didn't return his calls.
- Then there's FRED, the prototype military AI which Fargo used as SARAH's core, who gets reactivated in one episode and attempts to kill humans (actually kills a pizza delivery guy). Naturally, FRED has a deep male, unemotional voice.
- Ziggy from Quantum Leap has a female voice in the one episode set back in 1999. This despite being referred to as male for the ENTIRE FIVE SEASONS of the show.
- Throughout the Star Trek franchise, the computer was, with a rare exception, voiced by Gene Rodenberry's wife Majel Barrett. One episode in TNG absolutely had to have Lwaxana Troi (also played by Majel) get mad at the computer. In the season 1 episode "11001001" we had a male voice for arming the auto destruct and evacuation of the ship.
- Either in the Making of Star Trek or the David Gerrold book, that there was actually some research about female voices being easier to hear and this was why the female voices became standard (and thus why the Enterprise used one).
- In the first Mirror Universe episode, there's an interesting reaction shot when Kirk and McCoy discover that ISS Enterprise has a male computer voice. They're not precisely startled, but they pause for a moment to glance at each other.
- Averted with the Cardassians and Romulans. This is in fact used in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager (titled "Dreadnought") when a Federation computer fights to take over a Cardassian system. A male and female voice stating what they're trying to in counterpoint was actually an interesting dramatic device. However the Cardassian space station Terok Nor later to be known as Starbase Deep Space Nine used a female voice. Deep Space Nine's voiceover was a different actress, Judi Durand, and the voice is lower and a bit less friendly, befitting the Cardassians. (All Federation computers in the Deep Space Nine series are still Barrett, though.)
- The missile computer's voice is actually B'Elanna's, as when she reprogrammed it as a Maquis, she was sick of the unemotional masculine voice.
- In "Tomorrow is Yesterday", there's some comic relief involving the Enterprise computer becoming flirty, due to having been repaired by female engineers who thought it needed a personality.
- In Babylon 5, the all-purpose computers in people's quarters have a female voice.
- The future computer in SeaQuest DSV has a feminine voice. An escaped AI-piloted attack sub has a masculine voice, but only because it was programmed with Bridger's personality.
- In one episode of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Wayne turns his home into a smart house with a pleasant female voice with the primary directive of protecting the family. His wife takes a disliking to the computer (and the voice) and, after the house, naturally, goes crazy, demands that the voice be changed. She suggests George Clooney's voice, prompting Wayne to protest that she would never leave the house.
- In Helix, Research Inc Arctic Biosystems has a neutral, not unpleasant female voice that makes periodic announcements and status alerts, including when Patient Zero breaks out of isolation, and also announces the Previously On segment.
- Spoofed in a sketch from That Mitchell And Webb Sound where a voice actress is recording safety announcements for meltdown in a nuclear power station, and is asked to "make it a bit sexier." After all, hers may be the last voice people ever hear.
- Today Nothing Happened - The car's GPS''
I have her set on British so I always imagine her as Mary Poppins, except years older, and jaded, with a bottle of whiskey-
You are over the speed limit!
I know honey, calm down.
- Dexter's Laboratory
- There's one in the Kim Possible episode "Monkey Ninjas in Space." Also, the talking car SADIE in "Car Trouble."
- The System Voice in ReBoot.
- Plankton's computer/wife in Sponge Bob Square Pants is a bit of a subversion, as he often argues with her.
- Tak's Ship on Invader Zim: programmed with Tak's own personality, it remains loyal to her even after falling into Dib's personality.
- Turned briefly male when Dib managed to program his own personality into it, but with disasterous results.
- Sally's personal computer Nicole in Sonic Sat AM.
- In Codename: Kids Next Door, The computer for Sector V talks in a female voice from time to time.'She' is also shown to have emotions worthy of a woman, as seen in one episode where she is in love with numbuh 1, and jealous of Lizzie for being his girlfriend. It also seems that all K.N.D. tree houses have the same female computer voice, shown in the episode "i.t.", where the computer announces how much time is left in the game of 'tag' over the world.
Computer: "15 seconds to the end of operation i.t."
—The computer announcing the end of 'tag', with Numbuh 2 still it.
- On military aircraft, there is a voice reminder system affectionately referred to as "Bitchin' Betty." This is the voice that gives you helpful tips such as "Pull...up. Pull...up." when you're so close to blacking out that you can't see straight and you are about to turn $40M of military hardware into a very large lawn dart. It turns out that the military did research on the voice, and found that pilots respond more quickly to female voices. The same study noted that pilots respond even more quickly to strongly worded commands, but nobody wanted to explain why they spent $10M teaching airplanes to shout "Pull the * BLEEP* up!" It was also found that higher voices were more easily heard when there was other noise going on.
- Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert), believes that most of these devices are programmed by geeky men, who want something that sounds like a beautiful woman and asks to be touched in precise ways.
- Bitching Betty also lives on civilian aircraft, helpfully warning you of everything from approaching terrain to stall conditions.
- Apple computers have voice synthesizers. The default voice falls under this trope, although you have the option to switch to older female, 30-something male, boy and girl, and even a robot- or alien-like voice.
- Siri has a female voice in several versions.
- GPS systems, particularly those designed for cars, often have young female voices. (Ostensibly these are supposed to sound the most soothing, a useful trait when you've just missed your turn for the fifth time and you're in a maze of one-way streets). Some devices allow you to change the default voice between male and female options.
- Discussed in Date Night when Phil Foster ignores the GPS's advice in favor of a "short cut". Claire asserts that, "It's because it's a woman's voice. If that thing had John Madden's voice, you would listen to it."
- Or BRIAN BLESSED!
- Automotive voice command systems in general, including but not limited to GM's OnStar and Ford's Sync.
- A notable aversion comes from Mercedes-Benz, whose COMAND system has a female voice with a very harsh, low-toned quality. Between the less-than-pleasant voice and the complete lack of politeness "fluff speech," owners occasionally refer to COMAND as "The Grumpy German."
- On Top Gear when Richard Hammond tested the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster (which he points out is from the Ford era) he lamented, "Why when they programmed the SatNav and recorded the voice commands did they hire the warden from a women's prison? Said voice sounds like a robotic version of Anne Robinson.
- The SkyTrain rapid transit system in Vancouver, British Columbia, uses a pleasant female voice to announce arrival at each station. TransLink has recently introduced a similar feature on some buses. The SeaBus between downtown Vancouver and the North Shore uses an upbeat male voice to announce the mandatory safety features.
- The Washington, D.C. Metrorail system held a contest, and a local woman gives all of the recorded announcements the train makes. These include Please stand clear of the closing doors and When boarding, please allow customers to exit before boarding the train. The announcement of stops is made by the train operator, whether it's a man or a woman.
- In the late 1990s, the London Underground was considering using the voice of Marilyn Monroe for its announcements. A news article commented that instead of a Streetcar Named Desire, they'd have a Subway That Sounds Like Sex.
- The Minneapolis Light Rail has all of its announcements done by a female voice. It's rather businesslike, more so than some other examples here.
Masculine Voice Examples
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- Example numero uno: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
- In fact, HAL may have preceded this trope. May.
- Originally HAL was meant to be female, but it was changed in the last minute.
- Another aversion, or maybe this one is a subversion: The refurbished Enterprise's computer voice in the Star Trek movies is male.
- Another Alien example: In Alien: Resurrection, the voice of the computer on the military vessel USM Auriga was male, and named Father, in contrast to MU-TH-R from the first film.
- JARVIS, from the Iron Man movie. (Actually named for the Avengers' butler in the comicverse. Speculation abounds.)
- There is now an official JARVIS app, providing the snarky voice of Paul Bettany for everyone to enjoy. It allows limited voice control.
- The computer voice of the time machine in Guest from the Future.
- The Voice of the Pod's computer in Innerspace. Although it gives most of its information in a level & businesslike tone, when the Pod is in danger it gains a note of urgency.
- "Approaching Tricuspid valve of Heart! Do not enter, do not enter Heart!"
- (said with a note of fustration) "Thruster Inoperative!"
- MCP in TRON has a deep, male voice. It also sounds like its creator Ed Dillinger.
- Edgar from Electric Dreams.
- Hex's voice in the Discworld novels seems to be male, possibly because no alternative would ever occur to the wizards.
- Mycroft in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress uses a male voice primarily.
- Receives a Lampshade Hanging in the novelization of Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom: While the computers on Confederation and Border Worlder ships use a soothing female voice (because the pilots like it better), Black Lance ships instead have a stern male voice for their computers.
- Webmind in the WWW Trilogy has a variety of male voices. Initially he used the sort of synthesised voices you get with text-to-speech programs and at one point he is described as sounding like a GPS. Later on he settles on immitating a male voice actor in an effort to be more human-friendly.
Live Action TV
- UFO. 'SID' [Satellite Intruder Detector] averted the usual trope by speaking in a deep, plummy male voice. A deleted scene even has 'him' singing "Home On The Range" as he floats through space.
- KITT in Knight Rider has a soft male voice (Val Kilmer in the new series), likely due to it being intended as a military vehicle. KITT's Evil Twin KARR has a much deeper male voice (Peter Cullen, who also voiced Optimus Prime in Transformers).
- In the new series, KARR transforms into a robot, making the choice of using Peter Cullen again even more appropriate.
- The Lexx from Lexx is a very unusual case of this. The ship is biological technology and although the voice it uses is male, the ship itself is actually female.
- Mr Smith from The Sarah Jane Adventures is a living being that takes the form of a large computer, and talks appropriately, with the voice of Alexander Armstrong.
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: "Megazord sequence has been initiated... Megazord activated!"
- The various technology-based Transformation Trinkets from Kamen Rider from Kamen Rider Ryuki onwards all have male voices. Worth noting is IXA, Kamen Rider Kiva's Rival, where the computer voice pronounces each syllable separately and very robotically in nigh incomprehensible Gratuitous English ("I-KU-SA NAK-KU-RU RA-I-ZU AP-PU" note ). However, Ryuki itself has Pseudo-Rider Alternative, whose computer voice is female.
- Super Sentai is starting to follow suit with the most recent series. Change! Goseiger! and GOOOOOOOOOKAIGER! Yes, even the Gokaigers' morphers are Hot-Blooded.
- Eddie, the ship's computer of the starship Heart of Gold, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (Although it's mentioned, and briefly demonstrated, that he has an alternative personality with a female voice and mannerisms.)
- Friend Computer in the RPG Paranoia. How human it actually sounds is of course up to the gamemaster, but some flavor of Dissonant Serenity is often present.
- IBM's supercomputer, Watson. Or, at least its avatar.
- The monorail's announcer in Disney Theme Parks is a chipper male. "Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor, mantengase alejado de las puertas."
- Also the case with Fritz 9, a Chess program designed by Chess Base, -at least in this one, don't know if it has also been implemented in the following versions (I have a newer version (12), but never actually checked the voice system). The program's voice will be a male sarcastic one that will not hesitate to tell you (bad) chess jokes.
- Siri has a male voice in the UK version and is called Daniel.
- As of iOS 7, the US version also has a male voice. It sounds almost exactly like the female voice but slightly lower.
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- Both male and female voices are heard in Runaway. Louis the Robot Maid speaks with a female voice, while a male voice is used for the building computer at a robot research centre, and there's a brief discussion among the protagonists about the high quality of its voice synthesizer.
Live Action TV
- Holly from Red Dwarf started out as male (with no comment on his gender) but later performed a "computer sex-change" on himself (a Hand Wave to explain Norman Lovett's replacement with Hattie Hayridge, although Lovett would return to the role at the end of Series VII.)
- Solitary is a Reality Show "hosted" by a sentient AI named VAL. In the first season, VAL's voice was androgynous, but from the second season onward, it was clearly female.
- The VI interfaces in Mass Effect are certainly related: they are holograms that serve as interfaces to allow you to interact with computer systems. The ones in the citadel are Asari (monogendered female-like species). Later both male and female human variations are seen, and even a Prothean one, though due to 50,000 years of wear and tear, that one looks like a irregular sphere rather than resembling an actual Prothean. Then we meet a VI who looks like an actual Prothean in Mass Effect 3.
- Metroid Fusion: "Propulsion sequence activated...Destination: Planet SR-388."
- The AI Adam isn't voiced, but in the final confrontation between it and Samus, its "text noise" is noticeably lower-pitched than hers.
- There's also the computer that operates mines in the Descent game: "Self-destruction sequence - activated".
- Halo 3: ODST's Superintendent has a unique variation of this: "he" speaks in a somewhat high-pitched, gender-neutral voice, but in fact only can speak in pre-recorded messages. When trying to prevent a squad of Marines from blowing up a bridge, he urges them to "please respect public property." When he changes his mind, he says "Bridge toll accepted. Have a pleasant trip." In the audio-file side story, he's shown to play certain other sounds - for example, a cane tapping and a dog barking as a seeing-eye dog, meaning he can't see what's going on.
- Another Fallout 3 example, Protectrons, who are the lowest-rung bots have a neutral, robotic-y voice. Sometimes it's humorous, sometimes it's just annoying.
- Ikaruga is more likely to fall into this category, it is rather hard to judge whether if the ship's AI is male or female. Then again, this is probably because of the first player is male, while second player is female, and that both ships feature the same AI voice although being two completely different ships.
- When Kinesis' Computer talks in Evil Plan'' the use of a computer-like font and emoticon faces leaves it rather gender-neutral.
- The ship in Futurama had a setting between male and female voices... and apparently personalities.
- Microsoft's Sync in Ford vehicles.
- A GPS producer in Germany tried to sell a GPS with a female voice. It didn't sell very well. Turned out the majority of drivers were male who didn't like taking orders from women, so the voice was changed to male.
- Actually, almost every GPS sold in Germany used and still uses a female voice as the default. The simple reason was that for a long time, the male German voices were not only really hard to understand, but also sounded rather creepy as the loud speakers of the GPS's were quite small and cheap, which killed all bass from the deeper male voices. Your brain knew it was supposed to be a male voice, but your ears said bloody hell no.
- The text to speech device that Stephen Hawking uses to communicate sounds nominally male, though it is also clear that it is artificial.