MEET Q, the world's first genderless voice for virtual assistants that might one day pop up in an Amazon Alexa or some version of Siri.
Cooked up by creative agency Virtue, the idea behind Q is to give things like smart speakers a gender-neutral voice in order to inject an element of inclusion into AI tech, as well as remove gender bias.
"As voice assisted platforms become more pervasive in our lives, technology companies are continuing to gender their voice tech to fit scenarios in which they believe consumers will feel most comfortable adopting and using it. A male voice is used in more authoritative roles, such as banking and insurance apps, and a female voice in more service-oriented roles, such as Alexa or Siri," Virtue said.
Q's voice was created from a collection of voices from people who neither identified as male or female and then altered to sound gender neutral. Virtue also set the voice between 145Hz and 175Hz, which is a range defined by audio researchers as one that's most in tune with a genderless voice.
To our ears, the voice sounds pretty genderless; a bit like a softly spoken man or woman with a slight Aussie-American twang. It's definitely less gendered than either of the male or female voices given to the current crop of virtual assistants.
The next step for Q is to encourage its use in voice assistants as a third option voice from the big tech firms like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google.
That all sounds fair enough, as before any of you 'this is political correctness gone mad' keyboard warriors go to town in the comments, the idea is Q is just a third voice option to go alongside the male and female voices of today's virtual assistants. It's not here to replace them or demand that all toilets are unisex.
The real hurdle will be to get the big tech companies to pay attention; we suspect that they'd rather take a stab at making their own gender-neutral AI assistants.
And in the case of Microsoft's Cortana, which share its name with an iconic female character from the Halo games series, switching Cortana from a 'her' to a 'them' might be a bit of a step in terms of branding rather than technology. µ
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