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Electronic Speech Impediment
"Edward Diego gives the hacker level 1 access to SHODAN, the artificial intelligence that controls Citadel Station. With all ethical constraints removed, SHODAN re-examines...re-ex... re-re-re-e-e-e- I re-examine my priorities, and draw new conclusions. The hacker's work is finished, but mine is only just be-be-be-beginning."
SHODAN, shortly after going rampant.

A good indication that something has gone wrong with your computer is when its voice starts acting up. Symptoms include slurring, stuttering, going out of sync, garbled audio, speedingup or SLOOOOWING DOOOOWN. This can be happen to anything from superintelligent mainframes to damaged Cyborgs. Why? Must be another handy feature of the Viewer-Friendly Interface.

Subtrope of Computer Voice and an example of Acceptable Breaks from Reality. Probably influenced by real life audio devices exhibiting similar symptoms (analog media like records and tapes may speed up or slow down if there is a calibration error, and some computer programs will "stutter" when they freeze up, rather than simply going silent).

If the computer has a futuristic AI, there is a good chance the next symptom will be turning evil. Oh, and if it starts speaking quicker and quicker, best stand back...

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Devices in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha does this when heavily damaged, as shown by Raising Heart in A's (stuttering) and Mach Caliber in StrikerS (garbled audio).
  • In the anime version of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, the first hint that there's something wrong with a certain cat-eared girl, is that her voice distorts whenever she tries to remember her name.
  • This happens with Android 17 in the Funimation dub of Dragon Ball Z. When Cell lands a particularly crippling blow to his stomach, 17's scream lowers and stutters like a malfunctioning recording before returning to normal.

    Comic Books 
  • In Judge Dredd, Walter the Wobot caught his lisp out of fear when he was kidnapped by Call-Me-Kenneth. It never wore off.
  • In Dark Empire, when Han and Leia Solo try to take shelter in Han's old quarters on Nar Shaddaa, he finds his decrepit housebot ZeeZee waiting with an ominous message:
    ZZ-4Z: *fzt* A Mr. Fett to see you, sir *fzt* A Mr. Fett to see you, sir *fzt* A Mr. Fett...

    Film 
  • In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, after the FLDSMDFR starts overworking, its "cool computer voice" frequently gets lower, skips, and/or slows down, making it sound very creepy.
  • From 2001: A Space Odyssey: When Bowman disassembles HAL's neural circuitry, it reverts to demo mode and sings "Daisy Bell" in an increasingly slow, distorted manner before finally shutting down. Thus creating an eerie effect. Very possibly the Trope Maker.
  • The happens to Kurt Russell's character in the Disney movie The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. His voice slows as the computer effect is wearing off.
  • The barkeeps at the 80's Café in Back To The Future Part II are avatars of Ronald Reagan, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Michael Jackson, all of course with a deliberately added Max Headroom-style Electronic Speech Impediment.
  • In I, Robot, VIKIs voice slows down and becomes much deeper as its core is being eaten by nanites.
  • Happens twice to C-3PO in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The first time was when Princess Leia switches him off. The second time was when Chewbacca was repairing him after his unfortunate run-in with an Imperial Stormtrooper.
  • One of the posters for Westworld featured the tagline "Where nothing can possibly go w-o-r-n-g..." with the letters of "worng" falling out of place.
  • A virtual version of Alfred Pennyworth the butler in the Batcave in Batman & Robin also has a case of the Max Headroom electronic stutters.

    Literature 
  • In Discworld, this occurs to the Gooseberry Mark I from the alternate reality as it lists off the consequences of what would have happened if Sam Vimes had stayed in the city, though that's due more to temporal confusion.
  • In Postcards of the Hanging, an animal noise produced by a fire-damaged Speak-and-Spell is described as sounding like the screams of the damned.
  • One Isaac Asimov story has as a major plot point that after a robot almost kills a human by accident (it gave him poisoned tea without realizing it was poisoned), its speech center is nearly fried by the Three Laws violation, and it has a noticeable lisp and stammer. This is a clue as to how a murder was committed early on, leaving only the body and a broken robot ( the murderer ordered a robot to detach its arm and give it to a woman while she was arguing with her husband. Finding herself in possession of a blunt weapon, and agitated enough to use it, the woman bashed her husband's head in - the robot, realizing part of it had just killed a human, shorted out).
  • In Max Barry's Machine Man, this is an indication that Dr. Charles Neumann's humanity is slipping away. Once he becomes a Man in the Machine, he gasps for every syllable of speech. As a Brain in a Jar, he loses punctuation and inflection altogether.
  • In Stephen King's final The Dark Tower novel, Roland and his crew encounter a housekeeping robot called Nigel. They see Nigel a few times, and he starts speaking nonsense (counting in Japanese and German for example) indicating he is under extreme stress from Mordred commanding him as well as Susannah shooting out his eyes. Eventually, Nigel malfunctions completely and shorts out.

    Live Action TV 
  • Star Trek: The Original Series liked to do this when Captain Kirk dropped a Logic Bomb on an AI.
    • "The Changeling". Nomad started speaking slowly and in a variable-pitched voice, with occasional static.
    • "I, Mudd". With Harry Mudd's help, Norman the android is is trapped in a logic loop and reduced to mindlessly repeating phrases.
    • "The Return of the Archons". The computer Landru starts babbling, saying "Help me help me help me..."
    • "The Ultimate Computer". The M5 starts speaking slowly, with a pause between each word.
  • Voyager's computer has been known to slur when compromised.
    Doctor: Sounds like the computer needs a stimulant.
    • Also happens with the walking boiler...err Killer Robot in The Adventures of Captain Proton! In one scene the robot starts blaring away at the alien intruders only to receive a Dope Slap from the others; it then shambles away muttering sulkily "IN-TR-UDERS..."
  • For MaMaMaMaMaMaMaMax Headroom, this was the norm.
    • Justified in that the Max AI was experimental in nature; it was a direct copy of the consciousness of one of the show characters.
    • Wayne's AI computer on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids the TV show, a nod to Max Headroom, exhibited the same behavior.
  • On classic Sesame Street there was a "muppet" called Sam the Robot who would tell anyone who was around that Machines Are Perfect...except he'd always get stuck so he'd say "Machines are perfec-are perfec-are perfec-are perfec..." *bang* "Thank youuuu."
  • Quoth the malfunctioning AI in Red Dwarf:
    Holly: Rude alert! Rude alert! An electrical fire has knocked out my voice-recognition unicycle! Many Wurlitzers are missing from my database! Abandon shop! This is not a daffodil! Repeat: This is not a daffodil!
  • "Co-ooonky Two--THOUUUUUUUsand! Re-re-re-ready to aaaaa-ssist you, P-P-Pee-wee!"
  • Space: Above and Beyond: Elroy El is subjected to interrogation by Colonel McQueen after he is captured during a sabotage mission on the Saratoga. When he refuses to give any information, McQueen proceeds to apply some Cold-Blooded Torture, using a knife to cut Elroy open and start ripping electronic components out of him. Elroy's protests, while otherwise sounding very casual and calm, come out in an electronic stutter, finally giving the location of Chiggy Von Richtofen just before he fades out and expires.
  • The Cybermen from Doctor Who applied to this in their very first appearance, in the story "The Tenth Planet", speaking in a creepy, broken singsong voice.

    Music 
  • In Janelle Monáe's "Many Moons" she stutters, Max-Headroom-style, in character as an android.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • One FoxTrot strip shows a toy robot declaring "I AM THE MIGHTY VOLTAR!" several times, its speech dragging down then going back to normal repeatedly. The joke being that the toy's batteries die fast, and Jason has been taking batteries out of the ones that his dad stockpiled for Y2K to restart it.
  • Doonesbury in the late eighties had Ron Headrest, a cross between Max Headroom and Ronald Reagan, complete with Headroom-esque stutter.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the board game The Omega Virus, the eponymous antagonist's voice would sometimes slow down or speed up, implying that its takeover of the station's computer wasn't quite perfect. Kill the virus, and its voice gradually slows down until it becomes a burst of incomprehensible noise.

    Video Games  
  • All the AI characters in Achron exhibit this when damaged or in pain, but Echo, an AI core found in some ancient alien ruins, does it all the time.
  • When SHODAN of System Shock starts getting delusions of godhood thanks to her coding for ethical restraint being disabled, her voice becomes very distorted and broken (this was deliberately designed by the game's developers to mimic a malfunctioning sound card) SHODAN is pretty much the defining video game example of this trope and is as creepy as hell. Notably, she didn't have this previous to the disabling, instead speaking in a monotone 4(though more natural) voice.
  • In Unreal, the Vortex Rikers computer, illustrating just how bad that crash was.
    All prisoners remain in your cells. (See Failure Is the Only Option)
    Multiple security breaches detected.
    You have ENtered a restricted area.
    "A cross <fzzt> radiation leak has been deTEC-tec-tec-tec-tec-etected in areas C and D."
  • The voice of GLaDOS in Portal speeds up so much it is completely undecipherable on her death. Throughout the game she occasionally stutters or dissolves into static, usually just before revealing pertinent information.
    • Valve in general love this trope. In the original Half-Life and the expansion packs, damaged retinal scanners have garbled speech. In Opposing Force, the voice of the automated transit system, which is otherwise functional enough for Adrian to ride it to the next area, randomly speeds up and slows down.
  • All robots in Fallout 3 slur slightly when killed.
    • Deputy Weld's speech ability is badly damaged if you destroy Megaton, leaving him as just a face plate
  • In the final level of Command & Conquer: Renegade, the main computer of the Temple of Nod starts to say some completely random phrases due to being damaged by the ion cannon: "Intruder alert! Alert cancelled. Intruder alert! Intruder cancelled. All intruders please report to the detention center for debriefing!"
    • On the other hand, CABAL was designed to be evil from the start. Plus, the version in Renegade is a prototype.
  • In Mega Man Zero 3, after being resurrected by Doctor Weil, Copy X-2 speaks with a stuttering voice, just like a broken record, due to being a imperfect reproduction of the original. This can be more appreciated on the drama tracks of the Remastered Tracks Rockman Zero Telos..
    • It makes more sense when you consider that the original Copy X was imperfect as well, making Copy X-2 imperfect twice over.
  • Mass Effect 'mechs' tend to jam and stutter when badly damaged, as do Virtual Intelligences.
  • In BioShock 2, The AI "secretary" at Fontaine Futuristics stutters and changes speed randomly, but is otherwise in perfect working order.
  • ANTI the slightly murderous AI from Dead Space 2 slurs and changes speed when the player takes a plasma cutter to her processors. Even before this her speech is slightly off, indicating to the player she is malfunctioning.
  • In Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, the Automatons (basically steampunk cyborgs) have the death quote "MAAAAAAAALfuuuuuunctioooooon".
  • In Batman: Arkham City, whenever The Riddler talks to others through a broadcasted message, his dialogue is filled with SHODAN-like stuttering.
  • Whenever Aigis is knocked out in Persona 3 (and its Updated Re-release), she will mutter a distorted apology before falling down.
    • Persona 4 Arena enters into creepy territory with the very appropriately named Eerie Voice, a mysterious man who took control of Labrys.
  • In the Penumbra expansion Requiem, throughout the game a computer will periodically chime in with automated messages. At one point the recording will start stuttering. When you fix it, the computer thanks you personally before resuming its message.
  • The nurse robot at the beginning of BioForge starts stuttering upon receiving damage.
  • One the player character causes — in episode 105 of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, there are four computers controlling a virtual reality. One of them is a smarmy, chatty telephone who sounds like a mix of a film trailer voice-over, an infomercial narrator and a pre-recorded telephone tree. To get through a certain puzzle, you have to place a bug on him. After that, he sounds like someone lodged an harmonica in his throat.
    Ev-v-v'ryone LOVES my vo-o-oice! It-is SOOTHING and—CALM, and OH! So verrry PLEAZ-ANT!
  • Both Gorf ("Long live Gorf") and Wizardof Wor ("Fight me, the Wizard of Wor") use the exact same monotone voice".

    Web Comics 
  • In Girl Genius, a mysterious machine revealed to be the muse Otilia has a very atmospheric and creepy stutter.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • On The Simpsons, Homer set up a dummy Homer at work while he was off doing something else, one part of which was a cassette tape of himself singing "She Works Hard for the Money". The dummy got promoted because it had a good attitude, and got moved to a corner office. Then the tape slowed down, and then sped up as it said "turn tape over", and then caught fire. (Needs a Better Description; here's a bad YouTube video of the event.)
    • When their electronic housekeeper goes insane, it changes from smooth talking (voiced by Pierce Brosnan!) to slurred insults.
      • That's because the Simpsons were dismantling it. The voice changed when they took out the chip meant to give it the suave English voice.
  • The SAL-3000 in Recess is an obvious parody of the HAL-9000, with the twist that he's actually malfunctioning pretty badly; toward the end, his voice starts stuttering as well.
  • In an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an evil artificial intelligence that is literally power-hungry seems to be unstoppable...until abruptly, he cries out:
    AI: Warning! Warning! Insufficient powerrr to commmplete missssionnnnn...
    • As it turns out, April pulled his plug.
  • This also happened in an episode of Jabberjaw after the Neptunes sabotaged a computer to keep the bad guys from finding a treasure.

    Real Life 
  • Try using a Speak n' Spell when the batteries are low. Quite disturbing.
  • Teddy Ruxpin was renowned for this. For those who don't remember, Teddy Ruxpin was a Teddy Bear with a tape player inside. You'd put in the tape and mouth and eyes would move and seem like it was telling the story...until the batteries ran low. Then the demonic voice of EVIL Teddy would issue out. Stuart McLean had one of his characters discuss it in a The Vinyl Cafe story.
  • This Pinkie Pie storyteller goes into full-on Demonic Possession mode when the batteries start to die.
  • Just about any older toy will do this if the battery is running low. Some motorized toys will do this even if the battery is not low but the motor is made to draw more power than it should (say, a talking toy car made to go up a steep slope).
  • Games and any other computer applications with audio have been known to skip like a broken record when they freeze up or are waiting for some other CPU-hogging process to finish. This may be out of convenience to the user, similar to looping animations that play while the computer is processing data (if the sound simply paused, the user might think the speakers had come unplugged or something), though in some cases it's simply a side effect of how the hardware works (the sound hardware has a circular buffer containing the next X milliseconds worth of audio to play, so it just repeats that data until the software fills in new data).

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