Apple is adding two new voices to Siri’s English offerings, and eliminating the default ‘female voice’ selection in the latest beta version of iOS. This means that every person setting up Siri will choose a voice for themselves and it will no longer default to the voice assistant being female, a topic that has come up quite a bit with regards to bias in voice interfaces over the past few years.
This is an excellent move on Apple’s part. While it’s long allowed users to choose whether a voice sounds male or female, as well as accents and languages, not specifying a default goes a long way towards avoiding identifying virtual assistants as female, which can reinforce unconscious biases. Most of the virtual assistants that tech companies have rolled out over the past several years have defaulted towards a female option, including Alexa and Cortana; here’s hoping Apple’s change will spur those companies to follow suit.
Likewise, the two new voices seem as though they will offer different speech sounds and patterns, providing a more diverse slate of options, rather than singling out one specific voice as “standard.”