Apple’s iOS 14.5 update is getting the African-American community excited because the virtual assistant, Siri, has two new voices believed to be African-American voices. This could bring the needed diversity to voices heard on phones, tablets, and other devices, experts say.
“A young Black voice owning that role in a lot of people’s homes is incredibly powerful,” Jason Allen, a public relations manager for an insurance company in the San Francisco Bay Area, told Consumer Reports. “It says that Black identity and African American identity have value, have legitimacy, and can be trusted here as a partner in searching for information.”
Although there has not been any official statement from Apple, the voices, one male and one female, have been identified by experts like Allen who had access to the preview version of the upgrade as African-American voices in English.
“It’s more satisfying to hear,” said Brandon Pamplin, a systems administrator in Pittsburgh. “I grew up with my mom sounding more similar to this Siri than old Siri.”
Siri now has four voice options. Apple says the two new Siri voices form part of its commitment to diversity and inclusion. “These new Siri voices use Neural Text to Speech technology for an incredibly natural sound,” according to a statement from Apple’s Newsroom. “These updates further Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, with products and services that are designed to better reflect our customers and the world.”
The UN in a 2019 study criticized Apple, Google, and Amazon, for setting their virtual assistants to female voices. It said that gave rise to “harmful gender biases”.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time a tech company is experimenting with its virtual assistant to make it more diverse. In 2019, days after Amazon’s Alexa publicized that Samuel L. Jackson will be its new voice, Insecure star Issa Rae also took the reins as the new voice of Google Assistant. Rae took the slot after singer John Legend had his time as Google Assistant’s voice for the celebrity limited-time voice cameos.