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Machine Monotone
Machines that speak have been a common element in Speculative Fiction almost since the beginning of the genre. Usually, such voices have been portrayed as either an electronic monotone, or as an endlessly calm human voice that, while certainly warmer than the electronic buzz of the synthesizer, is unsettling to listen to because of a lack of basic emotional content. This is because, for the most part, machines are incapable of actually feeling emotions.

When delivered in a flat monotone voice (that is usually free of contractions or slang), even Spock Speak can take on creepy undertones.

This is especially evident when an artificial intelligence goes nuts. Despite going crazy and deciding to to Kill All Humans or simply to take over and rule us for our own good, all the threats and casually vicious comments the machine makes are made in the same level, calm mode of talking, making them that much more creepy.

A subtrope of Creepy Monotone. Also a justification if the voice comes off as creepy.

This can be an aspect of the Uncanny Valley.

Compare Synthetic Voice Actor and Computer Voice. Contrast Electronic Speech Impediment, where the lack of a Machine Monotone is a cause for concern.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Father Tres Equis from Trinity Blood, except he's a cold killer android. He's still the kind of guy who proposes killing a small child for simplicity's sake, and lacks emotions of any kind. Probably one of the only example who actually acts as unemotional as a walking computer would.
    • A few minor events suggest that Tres does some of this intentionally, he's certainly not as unemotional as people think.
  • Aizen's English voice from Bleach; his VA used HAL as an a inspiration.
  • The main antagonist of Digimon Tamers, the D-Reaper, also uses a Creepy Monotone (this time because it is evil/a computer program). This is made twelve times creepier because the Creepy Monotone it uses is the voice of Jeri, one of the main characters, whom it had absorbed early on.
  • Project 2501 "the Puppetmaster" from Ghost in the Shell speaks in monotone constantly, and for added dissonance, has a male voice in a female body, and does not move the mouth.
  • Chachamaru in Mahou Sensei Negima! (played by Akeno Watanabe, who also plays Robin Sena). This trait was carried over into the dub by giving her a British accent, and casting Caitlin Glass to play her.
  • The gynoid Dorothy from The Big O speaks in a level electronic grate - although peculiarly, instead of making her seem detached or dispassionate, it transforms her into a snickeringly incisive Deadpan Snarker.
    • The hero Roger has just literally kicked her into the middle of a crossfire - she emerges with her shell sootied, her clothes tattered, and her frazzled hair sticking out every which way. Her comment? "You're a louse, Roger Smith".
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The Movie 2nd As has NachtWal, the The Book of Darkness' malfunctioning automatic defense system that speaks in Gratuitous German with a calm, mechanical monotone as it terminates the Wolkenritter, breaks Hayate's mind, possesses her body, and starts destroying the world.

    Film 
  • HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey always talks in a chilling monotone. Towards the end of the movie, when Dave is essentially lobotomizing him, HAL goes from trying to reason with Dave to pleading for his life, stopping only when he reverted to factory settings and began singing a rendition of "Daisy." All in the same calm, polite voice.
    Dave: Open the pod bay doors, Hal.
    HAL 9000: I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave.
  • The original model Terminator always spoke like this, even when mimicking someone else's voice. In the first sequel, it is revealed that the longer he spends in contact with humans, the more human he will come to act. But he still pretty much speaks in a flat monotone. The T-1000, on the other hand, is shown to be able to mimic vocal inflection, it just doesn't do it unless it's necessary.
  • The agents from The Matrix all talk like this, even while in the midst of a gunfight.
  • The Ilia-probe from Star Trek: The Motion Picture spoke like this.
  • Proteus IV in Demon Seed, provided by an uncredited Robert Vaughn.
  • VIKI from I, Robot, in contrast to Sonny's speech, which is between this and a genuine emotional voice.
  • ARIA in Eagle Eye, probably the best thing in all the movie.
  • "Max", from Flight of the Navigator. At least, until it downloaded information from David's brain and accidentally took in some of his personality and started to sound like a sci-fi Pee-Wee Herman...
  • EDI, the rogue plane of Stealth, is particularly cruel when says "Goodbye, Henry" to Jamie Foxx, one second before jamming him and his plane against a cliff.
  • The titular Master Computer from the 1970s film Colossus The Forbin Project:
  • The WOPR supercomputer ("Joshua") from Wargames.
    "Shall we play a game?"
  • GERTY from Moon isn't monotone, but speaks in a rigidly pleasant and soothing tone.
  • The calm monotone of David from Prometheus just serves to make his semi-sarcastic one-liners all the more cutting.

    Literature 
  • AM, the genocidal supercomputer in Harlan Ellison's short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", is explicitly described as being very polite when it delivers this charming message to its captive humans:
    "HATE. LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I'VE COME TO HATE YOU SINCE I BEGAN TO LIVE. THERE ARE 387.44 MILLION MILES OF PRINTED CIRCUITS IN WAFER THIN LAYERS THAT FILL MY COMPLEX. IF THE WORD HATE WAS ENGRAVED ON EACH NANOANGSTROM OF THOSE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF MILES IT WOULD NOT EQUAL ONE ONE-BILLIONTH OF THE HATE I FEEL FOR HUMANS AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT FOR YOU. HATE. HATE."
  • The Toralii in Lacuna are physically unable to speak English and vice versa, so when they want to talk to the Humans they use a translator program that sounds like this.
  • HEX, the University thinking machine in the Discworld, ++talks like this++And his speeches follow this orthographic convention++This is based on early computer print-outs to indicate that he is printing his responses, rather than speaking them++However, when HEX gets an actual voice, he still uses (++) as punctuation to indicate a full stop++

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the episode "Robots of Death", the eponymous robots speak with no inflection. More of than than not, all the robots and computers tend to do this.
    • The modern Cybermen, as well as their original incarnations from the '60s, speak in a constant and unchanging monotone. And that's the least freaky thing about them.
    • The Daleks avert this. There are some instances where they talk in a rather monotone voice, but most of the time they simply shout in xenophobic rage.
  • In Gene Roddenberry's failed pilot Questor, the titular android (played by the always excellent Robert Foxworth) spoke like this.
  • Cameron, from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, uses a Machine Monotone in general. The absence of the Machine Monotone we're used to is what made the scene where she recites, not only word for word but inflection for inflection, a "classmate's" emotional bathroom rant for the principal creepy.
    • Similarly, in the second season premiere, the steady shift from Cameron's Creepy Monotone to her desperate, terrified pleas to John to a screaming declaration that she loves him while he's trying to take out her chip makes for a chillingly awesome scene.
    • And in the episode "Allison from Palmdale", the use of the Creepy Monotone and its absence makes an already chilling episode that much creepier.
  • The Bionic Woman (1970s) episode "Doomsday is Tomorrow". The HAL 9000 ALEX 7000 computer that's trying to kill Jaime has a voice like this.
  • The androids in the Star Trek episode "Mudd's Planet" all spoke in a constant monotone.
    • Not to mention the main computer of Enterprise.
      • Except the one episode, when it gets reprogrammed with a husky female voice.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has had at least two monotone androids:
    • The first was the android "Ted". He keeps it up even with half his face missing during his fight with Buffy.
    • The other was April, an android created by Warren Meers in a fifth-season episode. Xander and Anya even remark that her strangely even and polite monotone, while odd, is a turn on to some guys. Considering her original purpose in being built it was probably intentional.
    • The Buffybot has an even "Creepy Perkiness" manner of speaking.
  • Although they don't exactly sound like it, the Borg Collective in Star Trek: The Next Generation technically speaks in a monotone, albeit a loud, reverberating one. Certainly, their insistence that everything you throw at them is "irrelevant" fits this trope to a T - and they have the ability to back it up. Locutus' speech patterns sound closer to a traditional Creepy Monotone, but he slipped some inflection in there amid the creepy disjointedness. The Borg Queen pretty much threw the whole idea out the window.
    • Locutus (a hybrid of types 2 and 3) was specifically intended by the Borg to facilitate "relations" between themselves and the bothersome humans who kept resisting. His inflected speech and referring to Riker as "number one" were poor attempts to put the humans at ease, most likely. Of course, this was even more horrible than if he'd spoken like the other brain-dead, soulless drones.
  • Vicki on Small Wonder is a comedic example, though she also did natural intonations from time to time.

    Music 

    Pinball 
  • Pin*Bot delivers all of his lines in a robotic monotone.
    • Played with in The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot; while Pin*Bot himself still has his robotic monotone voice, the Bride speaks with a clear human voice.
    • This scenario is repeated in the third game in the series, Jack*Bot.
  • The titular character from Black Knight speaks like this.
  • Unintentionally done in Eight Ball Champ, as the voice clips that were meant to sound human ended up like this instead.
  • Played with in The Twilight Zone; during the game, a robot warns, "Don't touch the door!" At the start of multiball, the same quote plays, getting higher and higher pitched every time.
  • Gorgar combines this with You No Take Candle.
  • Mission Control in Flight 2000 talks like this.
  • The voice in Black Hole also speaks like this.
  • Done in Bally's Centaur, usually to taunt the player.
    Centaur: "Bad move, human."
  • Used by the Devil in Devil's Dare to give game directions.
  • One of the voices for Mission Control in 3-D Ultra Pinball is a female monotone.
  • Used in Firepower, Williams' second game with speech.
  • Spectrum combines this with Vocal Dissonance, giving the Bald Woman "Computor" a distinctly masculine voice.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • GLaDOS in Portal is a perfect example. "We hope your brief de-ten-tion in the Re-lax-a-tion Vault has been a plea-sant one." Though in the case of GLaDOS, the even worse problems start when the monotone breaks. Then she starts giggling.
    • The shit really hits the fan when the monotone starts up again.
      "Good news. I figured out what that thing you just incinerated did. It was a morality core they installed after I flooded the Enrichment Center with a deadly neurotoxin to make me stop flooding the Enrichment Center with a deadly neurotoxin. So get comfortable while I warm up the neurotoxin emitters..."
      • This is all the more unnerving as her previously clinical monotone shifts to a more organic (some might even say sultry) monotone.
    • GLaDOS isn't monotonous for much of the time. Her pitch changes regularly, almost every syllable in fact. What makes her sound disturbing is that every syllable is spoken inhumanly flat and detached, and they do not flow into one another.
      • This is because her speech patterns were done by running the lines through Text To Speech software, then having the voice actress model her delivery on that (with a dash of emotion for flavor)
    • Not only that, but her voice changes comparing to what's happening to her. In the beginning she sounds like a hyperadvanced Microsoft Sam, then when you escape her deathtrap her voice, and reasoning, becomes more disjointed, and when you destroy her morality core her voice becomes less Microsoft Sam-ish, but more smooth and... one might even say sexy, were it not that she hates your guts and wants to murder you real bad.
    • Subverted in Portal 2 during her Villainous Breakdown just before the core transfer takes place. For the rest of the game, she alternates between her "normal" monotone and actually showing some emotion; it's actually pretty amusing hearing GLaDOS freak out during the Aperture Science bits.
  • The Combine Overwatch from Half-Life 2 is another example; "she" may be an AI, although it is more likely she is just the alien equivalent of a tech support answering machine.
    • Who ends up sounding more like GLaDOS for HL2 Episode Two.
      • Because it's the same voice actress.
    • Doubly creepy because the Overwatch Dispatcher refers to Overwatch assets and objectives with mostly medically-inspired jargon: turrets are "sterilizers", soldiers are "protection teams", and the order to isolate and kill intruders is "Clamp. Expunge. Sterilize."
    • Half-Life has a similar PA system in Black Mesa (usually given the name VOX to distinguish it from the PA system heard during the tram ride). It was probably meant to be a text-to-speech system, but probably due to technical reasons, the game splices together a dictionary of pre-recorded words, similar to how Operation Flashpoint worked.
  • System Shock completely averts the trope with SHODAN, who is scarily passionate for an AI at times, especially when something doesn't work out like it should — or when it does.
    • XERXES in part 2 plays it straight, however. Turns into Creepy Monotone once he starts spouting stuff like "Glory to the flesh. Glory to the Many."
  • Deus Ex uses this trope to its full extent, partly because it used so many famous examples as inspiration, such as SHODAN, HAL, Agent Smith and Project 2501.
    Icarus: (calmly) Your systems were very cooperative. Upload complete.
    • Daedalus speaks in a monotone because he uses a voice-filter to avoid anyone detecting that he is, in fact, an AI and not just a rather well written interactive operating system. Icarus doesn't speak in a monotone, but every single sentence is pure hate run through a voice synthesizer, and includes such gems as the above while presumably installing a rootkit your brain. Helios uses the the more HAL-esque flat voice, coupled with irregular voice patterns.
  • KOS-MOS in Xenosaga speaks monotone, although her evil counterpart TELOS speaks normally in Xenosaga III
  • In Persona 3, when SEES first comes across Aigis, she speaks in a very dull monotone. Throughout the game, though, as she learns more about what it means to be a human being, she gradually starts to speak more fluidly and naturally: by the time she re-appears in Persona 4 Arena, her speech, while still slightly stilted, sounds very human-like. Her "sister unit", Labrys, averts this trope completely, speaking very fluidly (albeit with a thick Kansai/Brooklyn accent).
  • Halo: "This is UNSC AI Serial Number CTN-4169. I am a monument to all your sins."
  • HK-50/47 from both Knights of the Old Republic games. "Mocking Query: Coorta? Coorta? Are you dead yet?"
    • Actually, only the prefixes seemed to be delivered in monotone. The rest was no different from any other speaking droid in Star Wars, especially HK-47's clearly audible annoyance at not being allowed to shoot everything in sight and having to use that disgusting word "master".
  • Played with in the Mass Effect series with the synthetic characters.
    • Legion in Mass Effect 2 is probably the straightest example, and even then it is subverted on several occasions as the character shows some very organic-like quirks and attachments, and its voice reflects that.
    • The voice of Sovereign in the first game is also somewhat monotone, but it's not a "flat", emotionless monotone, but a menacing one. The Reaper destroyer in Mass Effect 3 also speaks with a similar tone.
    • Averted with other synthetic characters, most notably EDI, who can be playful, humorous, or even caring (though still with a little touch of deadpan), and Harbinger, who is a Large Ham.
  • BlazBlue's Robot Girl Nu-13 speaks in a creepy monotone, except around Ragna. And in Noel's ending Noel loses her identity, and begins speaking in the same monotone.
  • The voice on the intercom in the third Penumbra sounds like this. At first, it seems like a typical automated announcement device, but it turns out to have an awareness and personality. However, the usual characterization is subverted—it's not evil, and judging by its words it can feel horror and loneliness.
  • Megaman Juno in Megaman Legends speaks in a very polite, almost whispering voice about wiping out an entire civilization with a satellite strike. It's also worth noting that he initiates these cataclysmic events with a warm and friendly smile on his face.
  • The arcade game Berzerk may be the Ur Example in video games.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, findings voids in the Animus' software will drop you into a set of puzzles narrated by an emotionless female voice...which becomes extra creepy when the voice begins to speak as though it's lost and alone, wandering through endless darkness. This is because Subject 16 can only speak in a machine voice once he's uploaded himself into the Animus (until he loads his real one).
  • Homeworld has Fleet Command. Even when their entire homeworld is annihilated, half-human, half-machine Fleet Command still maintains her composed speech.
    • Although the slight inflection of surprise in her voice when the first attackers arrive is obviously intended to show that there's still a person behind the voice.
  • If you equip the Soldier with the Tin Soldier set (a cardboard box mask, shoes, and pair of ventilation pipes) during certain times of the year in Team Fortress 2, all of his combat voices will be replaced with robot-themed voices delivered in this fashion.
  • Monita, The Host of Nintendo Land, speaks like this.
  • Out of all the robots in Primordia, only Scraper talks like this.
  • Midway's Gorf and Wizard Of Wor are two other early "talking" video games, which also have a machine monotone (in fact, they both feature the exact same one).
  • XCOM: Enemy Within: The MEC troopers are soldiers who sacrificed their limbs for Meld-powered ones, so they can safely pilot giant suits of power armor in combat. While the in-game descriptions state that the MEC troopers have amputated their limbs, their Creepy Monotone voices and strangely formal speech patterns make you wonder if they sacrificed more than just their arms and legs.
  • The robots in the Fallout series, especially the Sentry Bots.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • This is a combination of this trope and A.I. Is a Crapshoot.
  • In Worm, the supervillain Bakuda has a gas mask that does this to her voice.
  • Dragon Ball Abridged gives Killer Robot Android 19 one of these by having a computer text-to-speech program voice him.
  • Eudocia from Brennus speaks like this. However, Polymnia manages to avert it despite using a voice synthesizer — she custom-built her own, using her enhanced knowledge of sonics to make it sound very close to a real human voice.

    Western Animation 
  • Auto the autopilot from WALL•E, itself a lampshade of HAL-9000.
  • Parodied in Futurama where a HAL 9000-like spaceship talks like HAL at first until they change the voice to a cheerful girl's voice. It's still creepy when he/she/it becomes obsessed with Bender.
    • Another episode features a rather fearsome robot nanny that shouts in a seemingly angry monotone, "Sleep, little dumpling! I have replaced your mother!" Leela says, "Aww!"
  • Series: The Transformers. Example: Soundwave. Behavior: Always uses monotone. HAL 9000 voice synthesizer: Comparatively flexible. Outcome: Enduring fame and popularity.
    • Soundwave of Transformers Cybertron rocks the monotone too, but he remixes it with some phat Jive Turkey.
      • It is illogical to ignore Soundwave of Animated. He speaks in complete sentences. This differentiates him from the original. His inflection remains flat and heavily synthesized. His sentences are clipped and precise. His voice remains a tinny monotone under all circumstances. He is Soundwave.
    • There's also Animated Perceptor, who according to Word of God supposedly removed his personality to have more room for information storage. And he's one of the good guys. In fact, his synthesized voice is basically the same as Stephen Hawking.
    • Omega Supreme talks like this because he was attacked by a Mirror Morality Machine long ago. He was able to break free before it had finished reprogramming him, but it left him nearly emotionless. He can talk "like a normal Autobot," but it seems to take some effort. Prime expresses the hope that Omega may eventually recover his ability to feel, and Omega answers, "Possibility: growing."
    • Subverted by Deceptitran (in the episode "Sea Change"), a Decepticon computer that is expressly proven to be nonsentient, but whose voice sounds like it's on the verge of hysteria.
    • The Autobots' computers Teletraan-1 and Teletraan-2 both have fairly inflectionless voices, although 1 always sounds like it's boldly announcing something, and 2 has a more soothing HAL-type voice.
    • The Decepticon Shockwave is described as an evil version of Mr. Spock, though that mostly refers to the comic-book version, who is every bit as fond of the word 'logic' as the Vulcans. However, he does speak in a very emotionless manner, with a bit of rasp as well. The Animated version talks the same way, and has the same actor, but in his disguise as Longarm, he talks much more normally and even has a different accent.
  • The DCAU version of Brainiac, being an AI, is portrayed quite like HAL.
    • Voiced by Corey Burton, who also voices both versions of Shockwave.
  • The computer from The Brave Little Toaster.
  • Ultron from The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes does this. As arrogant and psychotic as a machine he can get, his voice never really changes.

    Real Life 
  • Watson, IBM's Jeopardy playing computer, pretty much sounded like this.
  • Who could forget Microsoft Sam?
  • Stephen Hawking. His is an interesting case, in that the synthesiser he uses is over thirty years old and significantly out of date, yet he continues to use it because the synthesiser's monotone is so universally associated with him and is, in effect, his actual voice as far as most everyone is concerned.
  • The hacktivist group Anonymous use voice synthesizers to hide their identities.

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