Susan Bennett, The Original Voice of Siri

In an interview with CNN, the original voice of Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, comes forward. Her name is Susan Bennett, and she hails from Atlanta:

Bennett, who won’t divulge her age, fell into voice work by accident in the 1970s. Today, she can be heard worldwide. She speaks up in commercials and on countless phone systems. She spells out directions from GPS devices and addresses travelers in Delta airport terminals.

Until now, it’s been a career that’s afforded her anonymity.

But a new Apple mobile operating system, iOS 7, with new Siri voices means that Bennett’s reign as the American Siri is slowly coming to an end. At the same time, tech-news site The Verge posted a video last month, “How Siri found its voice,” that led some viewers to believe that Allison Dufty, the featured voiceover talent, was Siri. A horrified Dufty scrambled in response, writing on her website that she is “absolutely, positively NOT the voice of Siri,” but not before some bloggers had bought into the hype.

The story traces roots to 2005:

The story of how Bennett became this iconic voice began in 2005. ScanSoft, a software company, was looking for a voice for a new project. It reached out to GM Voices, a suburban Atlanta company that had established a niche recording voices for automated voice technologies. Bennett, a trusted talent who had done lots of work with GM Voices, was one of the options presented. ScanSoft liked what it heard, and in June 2005 Bennett signed a contract offering her voice for recordings that would be used in a database to construct speech.

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.

Of course, Apple won’t confirm the details…

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