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Siri, Who Are You? She Won't Say, But Her ID's Been Blown

We tried Friday morning to get Siri to confirm CNN's report that a real woman named Susan Bennett is the "classic" American voice of Apple's virtual assistant.

But all Siri would do is tell us, repeatedly, that "this is about you, not me." As for whether she does have a "real" voice, Siri would only say that "I guess I don't have one."

So at this point we'll just have to trust CNN's New Day and Bennett. According to the network, even though Apple won't confirm that the Atlanta-based voice actor is the original Siri, "professionals who know [Bennett's] voice, have worked with her and represent her legally say she is Siri. And an audio-forensics expert with 30 years of experience has studied both voices and says he is '100 percent' certain the two are the same."

How does an actor's voice get made into a virtual assistant? According to CNN:

"For four hours a day, every day, in July 2005, Bennett holed up in her home recording booth. Hour after hour, she read nonsensical phrases and sentences so that the 'ubergeeks' — as she affectionately calls them; they leave her awestruck — could work their magic by pulling out vowels, consonants, syllables and diphthongs, and playing with her pitch and speed.

"These snippets were then synthesized in a process called concatenation that builds words, sentences, paragraphs. And that is how voices like hers find their way into GPS and telephone systems. ...

"Bennett never knew exactly how her voice would be used. She assumed it would be employed in company phone systems, but beyond that didn't think much about it. She moved on to the next gig."

There was a flurry of speculation last month that Siri's classic American voice might have been that of voiceover artist Allison Dufty, but that she is "positively not the voice of Siri."

The next mysteries to solve for those who wonder about such things: Who are the voices of the two new Siri options (one male, one female) in Apple's iOS7?

Siri's original voices in the U.K. and Australia have previously been revealed.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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