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Here is who gives the voice to Alexa, the assistant of Amazon



Here is who gives the voice to Alexa, the assistant of Amazon

Even if you have never heard his name it is very likely that you have spoken with Nina Rolle. According to the latest book by Brad Stonein fact, Rolle would have lent the voice to one of the most used voice assistants in the world: Amazon’s Alexa.

Nina Rolle, the voice of Amazon’s Alexa

In his book Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, Brad Stone traces the history of the company which has come to become a “global empire”. One of the most important steps in this process is the launch of theAlexa voice assistant, which with its elegant voice since 2014 has entered homes, smartphones, cars and the lives of many of us. Until now, Alexa’s voice had remained disembodied. But Stone managed to give it a name. And a face.

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To get to the name Stone interviewed many several professional voice actorsnagging them until they are able to triangulate the various information and get to Nina Rolle. A woman of Boulder in Colorado, which has made a name for itself for collaborations with many tech brands. The voice actress did indeed work for Honda, Jenny Craig and Chase.

Approved by Jeff Bezos

According to Stone’s book, the selection process lasted several months: auditions, tests, executive decisions higher and higher in the corporate chain of command. But the final seal of approval was given by Jeff Bezos himself, a sign of how much the company cared about this choice. And with good reason: for the past seven years, Alexa has been the official voice of the company, the most distinctive feature of this empire that no longer concerns only the distribution of books and other e-commerce products.

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Nina Rolle didn’t answer any of Stone’s questions. The most likely hypothesis is that he has signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). But Stone’s reconstruction and comparison to other advertisements and tech products seems to confirm the name of Alexa’s voice.

Alexa’s voice could have been very different

Stone also reconstructed the decision-making process that led to the decision to use Nina Rolle’s voice for Alexa. According to reports, Bezos in the beginning he wanted so many different voices, one for each different voice assistant function. A choice considered impractical after the first tests, which saw some houses in Boston, Seattle and all over America grappling with the first Amazon smart speakers. It even appears that the neighbors of the test houses they called the police on hearing that great buzz of voices. Once the police actually arrived, with the people taking the test answering vaguely. The secrecy clause signed with Amazon would probably have cost a lot more than a night in a cell.

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The case of Susan Bennett and the voice of Siri

The voice assistant Siri arrives on Apple products a few years earlier than Alexa, in 2011. But it seems that Apple had plans to launch it much sooner, at least according to the American voice of Siri, Susan Bennett. The voice actress started doing the “robotic voice” voice already for the first Bancomat (ATM in American) in the 70s. Is in the 2005 had recorded a series of phrases and expressions for a technology project, of which he had had few details. At the time the iPhone wasn’t even outbut only iPods.

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Six years later Bennett receives an email from a colleague who says “Hey, we’re playing with this new Apple phone. It is you?”. Immediately the voice actress he recognized his own voice in Siri’s. Apparently, Apple opened an ad hoc company to develop Siri, which through an agency bought a piggyback series of different voice actors who had sampled their own voices. Among all these, they chose Bennett’s.

The voice actress never received official confirmation from Apple. But the fact that on her website and in her curricula he writes “The real voice of Siri” without Cupertino suing her says a lot.

The choice of the female voice for the voice assistants, which is now being discussed

One of the things that Amazon did not take into account in choosing Nina Rolle’s voice as the only voice reference for Alexa, is the awareness of the use of female voices for assistants. At the time, there were not many technological alternatives, therefore also academic studies in this regard. But today many scholars question the choice of using a woman’s voice for an assistant role, calling it an intrinsically sexist choice. Especially for the “uneducated” epithets (to put it mildly) that vocal assistants have often heard. A United Nations report indeed testified that voice assistants reinforce gender stereotypes.

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For example, Google immediately used voices of both genres and Apple in the latest update offered the possibility to choose one default male voice for Siri.

So maybe we will soon be able to hear Alexa addressing us in a male voice as well. And let’s imagine that Brad Stone has to start investigating again in order to assign another face to this new voice.