For all their ability to create AI, robot builders of the future apparently have no way of convincingly mimicking human speech, or simply sticking a recording of one saying all the important things into its memory bank.
Robots, androids, or any other artificially-intelligent machine with the ability to talk to humans very often does so in a flat and monotone voice that's devoid of emotion, with machine-like gaps between each word and/or sentence. In English, a robot may often speak without contractions, even though a contraction would be one of the easiest parts of speech to program a computer to do correctly. Their speech also often includes numerous specialized computer derived robotic Stock Phrases, such as: "affirmative/negative" instead of "yes/no", "file not found", and the classic "does not compute" when confused. When written, it is often in ALL CAPS, possibly to evoke the feeling of old computers which didn't have enough memory for lower-case letters. (Japanese works use katakana for similar reasons.)
Robots will also talk to each other in Robo Speak, a step backwards in technology since one would assume wireless communication between machines would be faster and stealthier. Killer cyborgs are always lurching about declaring "SER-CHING FOR HU-MANS!" — how is this going to do anything but hinder them?
Even worse is when they talk to themselves, declaring each thing they do as they do it. Often, this gives the heroes clues or information that the robots would rather keep secret — so, why are they blaring it to the world?
Writers may do this out of fear that the audience would be too dumb to notice that the robot is, in fact, a robot. Or perhaps it's just a misguided attempt to make up for the fact that your average robot can't display most of the more subtle physical indications of intent.
Your Robot Buddy will almost without exception use Robo Speak.
A "serious" android in anime, such as a Robot Girl, often talks normally but very formally and with no inflection.
This trope seems to be disappearing slowly. As modern computers get better at duplicating and mimicking sounds, including speech — and the average person grows more familiar with that technology in his day-to-day life - the public at large seems to be accepting the notion that you could create a robot that doesn't sound like a sedated Darth Vader.
At times damage can be indicated by a Electronic Speech Impediment.
Compare Spock Speak. See also Pick Your Human Half.
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Anime and Manga
Subverted and deconstructed in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex where Section 9's main robot assistants are The Tachikomas who speak and act a lot like little girls outside their professionalism on duty. They eventually come to the conclusion that humans intentionally program robots to Robo Speak to avoid empathizing with them. At which point the Tachikomas start deliberately speaking and acting more robotic around Major Kusanagi so that she'll like them more.
There's also a note that when they converse among themselves they really are "talking" through wireless links—it's just rendered as their normal speech for the reader/viewer's benefit. In fact, people with cybernetic enhancement also speak by wireless transmission.
Further lampooned in the second season, when the Tachikomas are re-introduced to the surprise of the main cast, and the first one that they see plays a prank on Batou by immediately acting very robotic and saying "HE-LLO I AM A TA-CHI-KO-MA", as if they've been brain wiped. After it manages to produce a shocked look from the entire team, it immediately reverts to giggling and talking like a 15 year old schoolgirl.
Android R Dorothy Wayneright from The Big O and KOS-MOS from Xenosaga lack Robo Speak. However, both talk without inflections, even when Dorothy is obviously being sarcastic.
Both only feel fit to express emotion when they absolutely have too however, though oddly enough KOS-MOS is explicitly stated to have emotions and Dorothy is explicitly stated not to. Any casual observer would state the opposite (Dorothy is almost definitely lying or mistaken).
In FLCL, the robotic version of Naota's father begins speaking normally, except that he puts pauses in odd places and sounds somewhat emotionless. As he continues talking, however, his voice becomes much more stuttery, the pitch varies wildly and the dialogue becomes almost nonsense.
This is also how the MISAKA Sisters talk, in addition to the whole Third-Person Person thing. Last Order aka MISAKA 20001 is an exception.
Except when she's Motor Mouthing machine code due to a viral infection. And when she's saying debug information after Accelerator messes up the virus' code enough for her to think it's corrupted and reset herself.
Mahoro and Minawa from Mahoromatic don't do it, but whether they're straight gynoids or cyborg humans isn't exactly clear.
Both averted and used in Cannon God Exaxxion. The cheap, massproduction Mecha-Mooks used by the Riofaldians talk in heavy robo speak. The Terminal Drone type robots even use a more "techno"-looking font. The main character's Robo Girl partner and other robots created by his grandfather don't, since they're designed to pass for human. It averts one of the major robospeak cliches, as well. We never see the Riofaldian robots talking out loud to each other, only to organics. There's one scene that depicts a robot sending a comunication requesting backup, wich is represented by a speach balloon filled with what looks like barcodes.
An interesting example is Robot Girl Aiko in Magical Pokaan. Her speech is perfectly normal, until episode 4, wherein a malfunction causes her to realistically stutter and repeat words, along with a very low buzz, similar to wet speakers. Seen here.
"If you're just going to siiiiiiit there, -it there, at least help me bring in laundry ple-please. ....Wha-a-at's wrong? You-ou guys?"
Subverted in Vandread: While the resident robot Pyoro begins speaking that way, due to an accident, he speaks in a very human way, sometimes even being hotblooded when he needs to be.
The Sentinels in X-Men also fit, as does the Danger Room.
Havok: This is what's so irritating about fighting these things. The nonstop encyclopedic recitation of things I've known about since puberty!
There was a comic where Hercules rode a chariot across space. He was given a robot by some aliens to record his adventures for them, and abuse the robot's credit card. The robot spoke in the same "Question: Is this wise?", "Statement: Thank you" fashion, at one point saying:
Corrective statement: The Rigellian Recorders were introduced in Lee and Kirby's Thor. Qualifier: The humor potential lay unused until Roy Thomas's run on the book.
Shockwave, when penned by Simon Furman, often begins trains of thought in the same way, using even longer words like 'observation', 'interrogative' or 'hypothesis'.
The robots in the original Magnus Robot Fighter series were particularly stilted examples, with pauses between each word. The Valiant Comics version justified Robo Speak as deliberate law, to discourage the use of robots in fraud (along with a prohibition on making robots too human in appearance).
Andrew in Bicentennial Man seems to suffer from this in the beginning, referring to himself as "one" rather than "I" or "me". However, as he becomes a real boy over the course of the movie, his speech becomes more natural as well.
Somewhat averted by Jarvis in Iron Man, the AI of Tony Stark's computer - though it's difficult to tell when he's being genuinely polite and when he's being sarcastic.
In Grandma's Boy, videogame programmer J. P. sometimes does this for no clear reason.
Deliberately averted with C-3P0 on the original Star Wars trilogy, since he is a protocol droid fluent in six million forms of communications and mannerisms, played straight with the battle droids on the prequel trilogy, as well as a few other examples.
Robocop tends to straddle the trope, since he's basically a heavily armored robot powered by an actual human. By default, he speaks in Robospeak, but sometimes with some emotion thrown in. Stronger emotions, such as Unstoppable Rage, come just shy of overriding the default monotone.
He talks exclusively in this way right after his resurrection, but regains his former way of speaking over the course of the film. His voice still has a hint of electronic filtering, though. This is not a bad thing.
Other robots in the Robocop world, however, play the trope straight. Notably ED-209.
In Elysium Max gives some back to his "parole officer" after it (a robot) extends his parole for sassing some robot officers.
Replicated with hilarious results in Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King. When Roland and his companions begin to systematically deactivate a humanoid robot who has very homicidal tendencies, it begins to shout about how it will rend their flesh and otherwise mutilate them... in a completely monotone voice.
Appears in the third Oz book, Ozma of Oz, with Tik-Tok, a wind-up robot (though not called that since the word was not yet in circulation) who speaks in mon-o-tone and in-flex-i-ble ca-dence. He is an early example of loyal Robot Buddy.
The Golems in Discworld: Even Though They Speak In Perfect Grammar, They Capitalize Every Letter And They Do Not Use Contractions.
"You vacuum tube! You low resolution one K valve driven punch-card programmed obsolete pile of junk! You nasty black and white two bit console!"
Live Action TV
Averted in Red Dwarf in which Kryten the robot and Holly the computer both talk in normal-sounding Canadian and East London accents respectively. Various appliances often appear that also talk like humans, such as Talkie Toaster.
However, in "Demons and Angels", Holly exclaims that "An electrical fire has knocked out my voice recognition unicycle!" and later in the episode says "The phrase 'cargo bay doors' does not appear to be in my lexicon." in a more robotic-sounding voice. Justified, in that she was damaged at the time.
In the episode "Inquisitor", a version of Holly in an altered timeline has no inflection to her voice. "Unauthorized entry. Intruder alert, intruder alert..."
Played straight in the episode "Justice". While inside the "Justice Field", any kind of criminal act (including assault) rebounds onto the criminal. The simulant attempting to kill Lister repeats, "Malfunction... does not compute..." even as Lister is goading it into continually assaulting him.
Daleks (who are not in fact robots) tend to always announce everything that's going on. They are best known for shouting "EX-TER-MIN-ATE!" when shooting something (even to themselves, or, in the new series, in the vacuum of space where no one's going to hear it), but they also announce all their other actions: "EL-E-VATE" before using their hover abilities, or the fantastically redundant "MY VISION IS IMPAIRED; I CANNOT SEE!" when blinded.
The Cybus Cybermen from the same series don't use contractions, speak unemotionally in an electronically distorted voice, and overexplain everything they do.
In the very first appearance of the Mondas Cybermen way back in 1966, they had bizARRely INflecTED SING-song voiCES because it was assumed by the production team that that was how computers would actually speak. Fortunately it was quickly realised how ridiculous that sounded, and their more well-known buzzing monotone voices were introduced from their second appearance.
Mickey: It's like Stephen Hawking meets the speaking clock.
An early attempt to create a rival to the Daleks resulted in the invention of the Mechonoids, giant spherical robots that were about as threatening and maneuverable as a garden shed. They also had voices that made the Daleks sound positively eloquent in comparison. Fortunately they never returned (except in the spinoff media).
Would K-9 count under this? Affirmative, mistress! Vocalizations within accepted robo-speak parameters!
Let's be honest here, if there's an even partially mechanical monster in a Doctor Who episode, it's invariably going to announce its killing intent in a repetitive manner.
The Host: "Information: Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill."
The Daleks' speech patterns and catchphrases are often lampshaded. An example from "The Stolen Earth": when a Dalek is shot in the eyestalk with a paintball gun, it burns off the obstruction and proclaims, "My vision is NOT impaired."
The scene from the "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" story, where the library's systems replay a recording of a harried survivor's last words, and edits them for content to come out in a clipped, impersonal monotone (even the screams), is probably a lampshading of this trope.
Averted in the episode "The Face of Evil", where the monster of the story is a computer called Xoanon. It has no voice of its own and instead speaks in the voices of multiple people, sometimes all at once - including the Doctor's own voice.
Possibly the ultimate aversion is the computer BOSS in "The Green Death," which not only talks in a resonant, emotional voice but even hums along to Wagner while plotting to take over the world.
"Deep Breath" has the Doctor lampshade robots' tendency to avoid contractions.
Half-Face Man: "I do not see it."
The Doctor: "I don't...I don't see it. Droids and apostrophes, I could write a book."
Almost averted in Star Trek: The Next Generation; Data cannot use contractions, but otherwise speaks with a human-sounding voice. (He points out that his creator did this deliberately, as he'd found androids that were too perfectly human in behavior while not being completely human in appearance creeped people out).note This is to some extent Truth in Television — there have been studies showing that the more "human" facial features a robot had, the more negative the reaction to it. Soong also did it to distance Data from Lore.
Data did properly use some contractions in the future parts of the TNG finale "All Good Things", set 25 years after the end of the series. Of course this future was completely averted by the destruction of the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: Generations and Data's own death in Star Trek: Nemesis but it does show that he could have developed the ability over time.
Given that Data isn't supposed to use contractions a number of them slip through in various episodes, though presumably these are just oversights on the part of the actor/director. There were also a few that got by before it was established that contractions were taboo.
In the episode "Contagion," Data is infected by a computer virus that disables some of his functions. While infected, he reverts to robo-speak.
The ships' computers especially show the evolution of what the writers expected such a computer to sound like. In Star Trek: The Original Series, the computer's voice wouldn't sound out of place alongside Daleks and Cybermen, with. Each. Syll. A. Ble. Be. Com. Ing. Its. Own. Sen. Tence. It was very grating to listen to for any length of time and sometimes (and this goes double for any computer voice done by James Doohan in Star Trek: The Animated Series, as good as his other voices were) so slow at getting the message across that the entire sentence appearing on a screen in a handy dialog box seems more efficient by far. Fast forward to Picard's time and the computer speaks much more naturally — you'd never have guessed that Original's "Wor. King. * clicks* The. A. Pplied. Phle. Bot. In. Um. Is. In. A. No. Ther. Cas. Tle. * more clicks* Try. A. Gain." and later series' "Unable to comply. Applied Phlebotinum not found." are actually the same actress.
Star Trek: Voyager. Homaged in the Captain Proton holodeck program, with Satan's Robot who always talks this way. "SUR-REND-DER!"
In Kamen Rider Kiva, the Henshin Belt of Keisuke Nago/Kamen Rider IXA is the only Heisei Belt so far that, although in Engrish, states out everything in robo speak.
The Late Late Show's Geoff Peterson before his "voice chip" was upgraded. Overlaps with Stylistic Suck since he tends to keep repeating the same phrase or two throughout the monologue leading the viewer to assume "he" can only be programmed to store a few phrases at a time.
Older than Television: In Karel Capek's 1920 play R.U.R., according to Capek's instructions, the robots are "slightly mechanical in their speech." In the English translation, they do not use contractions.
The droid HK-47 from Knights of the Old Republic plays with this trope. While protocol droids and the like speak normally, HK has distinctly stilted phrasing.
HK-47: Statement: HK-47 is ready to serve, master. Player: You don't need to call me master, you know. HK-47: Query: Don't I? I was under the assumption that organic meatbags such as yourself enjoyed such forms of address.
A scene in the first game hints that most of HK-47s personality and speech quirks were accidental errors in his programming that his creator found amusing enough to keep. HK himself seems rather proud of them, becoming insulted when asked to talk normally.
His evil-er knockoffs in the sequel, the HK-50s, does the same thing, with the addition of adjectives to the initial sentence descriptor. This can backfire on them, since those adjectives includes "Insincere".
While not exactly monotone, E-102 Gamma from Sonic Adventure does sound calm at all times. He talks to himself a fair amount, and while this doesn't hinder him at all, it doesn't make much sense, outside of letting players and viewers in on his data processes. Oh yeah, and stock phrases: "Insufficient data." "Does not compute." "Accessing data."
"Give me the bird."
E-123 Omega from Sonic Heroes, on the other hand, gets an angry monotone, but better lines ("WORTHLESS CONSUMER MODELS!"). Interestingly, his voiced renditions of stock answers like "Affirmative.", "Negative." or "Illogical, does not compute!" fit his serious but also very angry character quite well.
The security robots use this trope. Their dialogue seems to consist of only a few phrases, two — "Scanning area" and "Target acquired" the most commonly-heard. (In the case of the bigger bots, which shake the ground with each step, "scanning area" at least is not necessarily counterproductive, but it is redundant.)
The AIs in the same game, however, speak relatively naturally, unnatural voices notwithstanding. Deadalus, being the oldest model, has perhaps the oddest speech pattern, but it's still believable. There are some exceptions: in one instance, he experiences a malfunction and sends the player the following message: "Incorrect inform — ps -al : attach. Streets clear. No danger." ...This in possibly one of the most dangerous areas in the whole game.
The mechanoids in Thief II. Particularly creepy in that, when idling or patrolling, they spout religious phrases.
The qualities of the voices are different in translations. For instance, ironically enough, in German, Vox is completely human-sounding while the HEV suit is given a monotone that not even Vox has in English.
Robot Girl Aigis in Persona 3 seems to lack robot speak to the same extent as KOS-MOS above, generally lacking inflection to sound "robotic", but still has some emotion, such as when she confronts Ryoji when she finally remembers that's he's death's harbinger. This only applies to the English voice cast, however. The Japanese voice for Aigis seems to have avoided this trope. Japanese Aigis has normal inflections but speaks in very generic, to the point, militaryish grammar. The robot speak in the English was an attempt to convey that. Aigis starts to talk normally towards the end of the game, much like how Aigis in English eventually starts to sound less robotic.
Certain entities closely associated with Law in Shin Megami Tensei talk like this. Purgatorium's angel warriors in Shin Megami Tensei IV all repeat the same lines in pretty much the same inflection. Pluto and the Ancient of Days sound like their speech is largely composed of prerecorded tapes, though the former mixes in dubstep of all things.
The first two MechWarrior games had the mech startup sequence and in-game warnings (which used Mad Libs Dialogue) in a feminine Robospeak ("Betty"). "Reactor Online. Sensors Online. Weapons Online. All Systems Nominal.". MechWarrior Living Legends likewise has a monotone Betty computer, though it speaks much more quickly and in a less stilted manner. MechWarrior Online uses the same voice actor as the first two games for Betty. Mechwarrior 3 and 4, however, drop Betty for a much more human voice.
Robot Girl Tio from Grandia II quips stuff like "Wind speed: 0.120" (before casting a wind spell) and "Centigrade: 9900" (that would be a fireball) in the middle of fiercest battles with that eerily serene voice of hers. However, since one of the prominent subplots is her becoming a real girl, she progresses to Spock Speak (and to The Stoic, personality-wise) by the end of the game.
In Star Control 3, the Daktaklakpak precede HK-47 in the department of stilted phrasing. They sound like they're reading off scientific papers. "Clarification 1: Daktaklakpak is shortened form of complete species name. Clarification 2: Complete species name of Daktaklakpak contains complete assembly and maintenance instructions for Daktaklakpak race. Conclusion: Daktaklakpak name is 'big deal'!"
Robo of Chrono Trigger speaks more formally than the human characters, and his text boxes are accompanied by an electronic noise, implying Robo Speak. Doesn't stop him from being a lovable character, though.
Disgaea: BEEP BEEP Thursday fits this trope BEEP BEEP
EarthBound, to an extent. The robotic Starmen speak for the most part in normal English — albeit peppered with onomatopoeic machine sounds such as * whirr* and * click* . This is an invention of the localization, however; the original Japanese release differentiated the Starmen's robospeak by writing their dialogue entirely in katagana (the equivalent of using ALLCAPS TO SIGNIFY MONOTONE SPEECH.)
Mother3 used the same strategy as its predecessor, in the few instances where you got to talk to robots. However, the unofficial English translation has them speaking in straight ALLCAPS, with no onomatopoeia.
Illusion's H-game Artificial Girl 3 has a variety of personalities the player can assign to a girl he creates, one of them (the N type), has some Robo Speak lines like "Preparing to rest... shutting down... complete." and "Probability of pregnancy: 10%", the game even has the option of giving her robotic ears to fill the role better.
Fracktail. As well as a few references to bad translations in Nintendo's past, it pretty much speaks like a malfunctioning Windows operating system, using all manner of computer speak with semi puns. 404 Computer Hamsters Not Found! and C:/ run query identification C:/ run insult generator C:/ results: go away yeti-lip! being some memorable examples.
Similarly, the Robot Peach Castle speaks in incredibly stilted Robo Speak. ACTIVATE BLACK HOLE ENDGAME! and BOO SYSTEM ONLINE! INVISIBILITY FIELD NOW OPERATIONAL! ENEMY EVASIVE MANEUVERS NULL! being a few funny examples.
In ''Mario & Luigi Dream Team, Pi'illodium speaks in this, with quotes such as 'Scanning foe potential... chance of my victory: 120%', 'cue: beg mode' and 'Boot: Self Destruct'. The giant boss Earthwake does the same thing (Damage bad! Destroy bad mustaches!)
Starcraft II has damaged Dominion Adjutant and Raven speaking like this.
While not exactly a robot, Chaos Lord Ledgermayne of AdventureQuest Worlds, who is a being made of living magic, speaks calmly and coolly in a computerized fashion. And that's not all, it also refers to itself as "we" or as "this form". It's kind of like a magi-borg!
Ledgermayne: This form complies with the master's wishes.
Of course, needless to say, Ledgermayne lets out a rare and truly single non-Robo Speak exclaimation in the form of a Big "NO!" when Drakath gives focuses his Chaos magic into the Supreme Arcane Staff, allowing the hero to use it to convert Ledgermayne back into the mass of mana from which it was made.
The classic NES game Bionic Commando featured a boss robot that would begin the battle with the statement: "PI PI PI... WE HAVE FOUND AN INTRUDER... WE ARE GOING TO ATTACK"
The D1 Beetle in the remake says something similar, although less Engrishy.
The Soldier of Team Fortress 2 takes part in this when you equip his full Halloween set, going "beep boop", or even half-assing it and just saying "Robot noises"
For example, a Lucy Liu-bot confesses to Fry: "[Normal voice] Oh Fry, I love you more than the moon and the stars and the [Robo Speak] POETIC IMAGE NUMBER 37 NOT FOUND."
Another Futurama parody came with an old, obsolete robot who did cart around a basket of tapes with various bits of speech recorded onto them, including a tape labelled "Snappy Response". Once punched in, the robot says "Your Mother!".
There was also one where the leader of the robot Mafia was trying to teach another robot a lesson. The robot starts begging (not in Robo Speak yet), "Please, look into your hard drive, and access your mercy file!" to which the leader of the robot Mafia said "File not found!" Granted, it was used more as a snappy comeback said in a normal tone, but he still reverted to a primitive phrasing to describe the "missing" file.
In the commentary for an early episode, the Word of God noted that when people auditioned for the voice of Bender they tended to use a "robotic" voice, which wasn't what they were looking for.
One of the few times Bender actually did use Robo Speak in-show was when an Obstructive Bureaucrat stole and downloaded his personality to a disk, reducing him to only be able to say the phrase "I am Bender, please insert girder". And yet he still manages to contribute to the episode's Big Flashy Musical Number.
There's also the episode where Fry goes insane and thinks he's a robot. He ends up speaking robo-speak even though his best friend is a robot who does not talk that way.
"Robo-Puppy preparing to lick cheek. Robo-Puppy commencing cheek-licking. Licking in progress. Licking complete."
And the robot at the pizza place who speaks in a New York accent, but when Fry asks for anchovies on his pizza the robot responds in Robo Speak.
In one episode of Atomic Betty, Robot Buddy X5 admonishes a trick-or-treater wearing a robot costume and speaking in jarring Robo Speak that "Robots do not talk like that".
In Invader Zim, GIR tends to use a rather brusque and aggressive variant of Robo Speak in "Serious Mode" — and talks like a little girl on a sugar rush when his normal self. His former speech pattern may be from the fact that his better-constructed counterparts, SIRs, talk this way, being part of a warrior race and all.
Thunderstick on Bravestarr stammers and repeats random words like he has a crossed wire. It could possibly be all the blows he takes to the head knocked a screw loose somewhere or it could be the robot version of an unhinged and psychotic personality, he is a bad guy after all.
Of all the robot characters on Megatron's toady Soundwave was the only Robo-Speaker, despite the fact that he transforms into a tape player, and would be expected to have an even firmer grasp of sound than the other characters — he even frequently says "By your command," a Cylon Catch Phrase. Even his subordinates, who transform into the tapes he deploys from his chest, are more articulate; at least, those who aren't animals. Primitive Cybertronians with little intelligence tend to sound more like cavemen than Cylons (see the Dinobots, or any combiner team). On the other end of the scale, Autobots Jazz and Blaster not only eschew Robo Speak, but were virtually jive characters, complete with large slang vocabularies.
Omega Supreme talked in robo-speak, but this was justified in that his mind was damaged in a failed attempt by Megatron to reprogram him as a Decepticon. This left him emotionally stunted, and this was reflected in his speech patterns. He could speak normally, with effort, but rarely chose to.
In Transformers Animated, Perceptor, the Autobots' ultimate scientist, speaks with a voice synthesizer as an homage to Stephen Hawking. According to the creators, he deleted his personality to make room for more facts.
Also referred to in "Herring Impaired" when Julien attempts to imitate Maurice:
"Uh, hey, everybody! Stop having fun, because I am boring! And you should be boring too!"
"I do NOT talk like that!"
"Yes. You. Do."
"Now that's just your robot voice."
Although text-to-speech systems have improved greatly with time, most publicly available systems still sound like a bad electronic imitation of speech. Even if the system gets the words pronounced and inflected properly, its timing will often suffer from glaringly noticeable gaps, and some systems may even use different voices for pre-rendered and dynamically generated data. This frequently leads to an Uncanny Valley effect with automated telephone information systems - you think you're listening to recorded human speech, and then the system comes up with something like "Here's the latest information for the flight you requested. Flight. Four. Four. Two. Seven. Is scheduled to land at. Miami. International. Airport. At. Five. Twenty. P.M. Please check the monitors in the terminal for more up-to-date information."
Most of those systems are actually pieced together from a real actress reading individual words and phrases, a system originally used for the speaking clock. When systems of this type do need to read something they didn't anticipate, like an address, they switch to a synthesizer.
They are getting better. Many NOAA weather radio stations use both a male and a female synthesized voice to read the weather in lieu of human reporters.
Parodied by, of all things, an actual robot. The "Actroid" robot can recognise 40,000 words of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English and moves and speaks in something approaching a lifelike fashion... until (not shown in the video) she is asked if she's a robot. In which case she moves her arms jerkily and replies "Yes-I-Am-A-Robot" in a dull monotone. Then she winks and says "Just kidding." She can also rap.
Stephen Hawking's famous near-monotone voice synthesizer. He has turned down many offers to improve and humanise the voice, saying that it's become the voice that people expect him to have. And of course it is recognised the world over.
IBM's "Watson" system. He actually sounds less roboty than Stephen Hawking's synthesizer. It still uses the "string pre-read phonemes together" method. It sounds a bit like the Enterprise-D's computer, but male.