From the last few years, virtual voice assistants have become more pervasive in our lives, over more than 3.5 Billion voice assistants are now used in our world, 6 out of 1 American own a voice-activated smart speaker.
And why not, whether its playing music, getting import notifications and reminders, setting up alarms, calling a friend, or switching off the light, voice assistants have just become a quick way of gettings things done.
But even though there are more than 3.5 Billion voice assistants out there, the one thing that they all commonly share (mostly) is a female voice, whether you are using Apple Siri or Alexa it doesn’t matter much.
I’m not saying the female voice is a bad choice, it’s obvious to choose it as the target of a virtual voice assistant is always to achieve more fluent, smooth, natural and relatable conversation with the user.
The only thing wrong with it is that it is biased, it creates biased user experiences, biased choices and it replies are also biased and same goes with a male voice.
You might be thinking that we have only two voice and the issue of biased will never be going to get away. But what if we have another option which offers that same smoothness without biased experiences.
What if we have a genderless voice.
Meet “Q” the world’s first genderless voice assistant that neither sounds like a male nor like a female and pretty much capable of doing all things that your Alexa, Siri or Google Home can do.
Researchers from Copenhagen Pride have come up with such a voice assistant, that is genderless.
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 to 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 is a step forward in true innovation because it forces a critical examination of the belief systems. It offers all the feature that tech companies frequently call upon to justify their own gendered virtual assistants: warmth, helpfulness, a sense of authority.
The development of Q started by recording voices of two dozen people who identify as male, female, transgender, or nonbinary. Researchers then tested the voice on 4,600 people across Europe.
The tester where asked to grade the voice between one and five, with one meaning a male voice and five a female one. After that, the voice was then modulated and tested again until it was widely perceived as gender neutral.
After lots of analysis, experiments and altering the pitch, formatting filter, and tone of the voice, researchers found that a range of 145 and 175 hertz was a gender-neutral frequency.
The higher the frequency, the more we perceive it as female; whereas, if the frequency is lower, we’re more likely to think the voice is male.
The voice at 145 and 175 hertz 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.
“At that point, we didn’t know if we were going to layer the voices, so we needed the same sentence in the same tempo as close as we could get it,” says sound designer Nis Nørgaard. By merging the voices together, they might be able to create some kind of average. “But that was too difficult,” he says.
Q is going to add a global discussion about who is designing gendered technology, why those choices are made, and how people feed into expectations about things like trustworthiness, intelligence, and reliability of a technology based on cultural biases rooted in their belief system about groups of people,’ Carpenter said.
“I think it’s really important to have representation for trans people when it comes to not only AI but voices in general,” says Ask Stig Kistvad, a trans man who lent his voice to the project. “It’s a new thing in the last three to five years, that trans people are actually represented in popular culture.” It’s only natural, Kistvad says, that some developers eventually embrace them, too.
The only real hurdle for Q is now to attract big tech companies to pay attention and start a new trend in voice assistants world.
“We aim to get the attention of leading technology companies that work with AI to ensure they are aware that a gender binary normativity excludes many people and to inspire them by showing how easy it would actually be to recognize that more than two genders exist when developing artificial intelligence devices. This is about giving people choices and options,” Thomas Rasmussen, head of communication for Copenhagen Pride said in a statement announcing Q.
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