Meet Q, The Gender-Neutral Voice Assistant
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When most people talk to technology, whether it's Alexa or Siri or Google Assistant, the voice that talks back sounds female. Some do choose a male voice. And now researchers have been developing a gender-neutral option called Q. NPR's Dalia Mortada reports.
DALIA MORTADA, BYLINE: Meet Q.
Q: Hi. I'm Q, the world's first genderless voice assistant.
MORTADA: The voice of Q was developed using dozens of voices.
Q: My voice was recorded by people who neither identify as male nor female and then altered to sound gender-neutral, putting my voice between 145 and 175 Hertz.
MORTADA: That's the range audio researchers identified for the best gender-neutral effect. Julie Carpenter is an expert in human behavior and emerging technologies. And she was one of the researchers behind Project Q.
JULIE CARPENTER: One of our big goals with Q was to contribute to a global conversation about gender and about gender in technology and ethics and how to be inclusive with people that identify in all sorts of different ways.
MORTADA: She points out that people often expect to hear a particular kind of voice in a given situation.
CARPENTER: There is a history of research that shows often that people might prefer to hear a female-sounding voice in some situations, particularly when the tasks associated with that voice are assistive. It really reinforces gender stereotypes.
MORTADA: Q would give companies a chance to break through that stereotype if they choose. The team behind Project Q includes Carpenter, the organizers of Copenhagen Pride Week, technology leaders in an initiative called Equal AI, along with linguist sound designers and others. They settled on this version of Q after playing it for transgender people in Denmark, England and Venezuela. You won't hear Q on your phone or home assistant tomorrow, but the developers hope that big companies will pick it up as a more inclusive voice option. Dalia Mortada, NPR News.
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