You’ve met ‘the original Siri.’ Here are the others.

October 4, 2013

Today, CNN put an end to one of tech’s more intriguing mysteries: Who, exactly, is the alluring mechanical voice behind Apple’s Siri?

(Apple)
(Apple)

Her name, apparently, is Susan Bennett, and she’s a Georgian suburbanite who does Zumba and went to Brown. But as much as her outing has fascinated the Web, Bennett’s is only one of dozens of artificial voices we hear on a daily basis. Just think of your commute to work this morning. If you used a GPS, took the subway, or passed through a bus or train station, you probably encountered a voice actor somewhere -- maybe one of these guys.

1) British Siri. While Bennett has stayed anonymous for years, other Siri iterations outed themselves sooner. “Daniel,” the accented male voice that iPhone users hear in Britain, is allegedly a former tech reporter named Jon Briggs. Briggs recorded the thousands of audio snippets that became Daniel in the for a company called Scansoft in the mid-00s; he was surprised when he heard his voice in an Apple commercial five years later.

2) Australian Siri. Karen Jacobsen, a.k.a. “GPS Girl,” is reportedly the voice behind Australian Siri and a range of GPS brands. Jacobsen, an aspiring singer-songwriter, has since parlayed her various ambitions into a second career on the inspirational speaking circuit. “The GPS Girl helps you put yourself in the Driver's Seat of your life,” promises her Facebook page.

3) Garmins and TomToms. GPS companies and car manufacturers hire dozens of actors and actresses to voice their products, particularly in different accents and languages. Briggs and Jacobsen have both done GPS work. If you listen closely, you’ll notice many GPS voices pop up elsewhere: Cara Jones, the voice of U.S. Cadillacs, Land Rovers and Mercedes Benzes, also announced the Nagasaki Olympics; Gabriella Gera has voiced Garmin’s Nuvi and the corporate voicemail systems of companies like Google and Dell; Giovanni Notto, the lead voice in the Italian version of Nintendo’s Wii Fit, has also done voice work for TomTom, Avis and the Pokemon video game.

4) AOL. Elwood Edward, the “You’ve Got Mail” guy, got the gig by chance -- his wife worked for the company that would eventually become AOL. AOL later made a video about it:

5) JFK, LAX and Chicago O’Hare. The people who tell you not to smoke or pick up strange bags are Carolyn Hopkins and Jack Fox -- “two cheerful, church-going retirees,” as the Verge put it in a great profile earlier this year. Hopkins and Fox (and their Louisville-based company, Innovative Electronic Designs) provide the voices for 110 airports, the U.S. Capitol and the Kennedy Space Center. Hopkins told the Verge that she’s still startled to hear her voice on the P.A. system when she travels.

6) The New York City subway. Hopkins voices MTA announcements, too. But the male voice of the New York subway is Bloomberg radio personality Charlie Pellett, who recorded the spots in 2003 after his employer donated his time as “public service.” A journalism student made this video profile of him this year:

7) The D.C. metro. Randi Miller, the voice of WMATA’s “doors closing” message, comes from a slightly less broadcast background. The amateur voice actress, who won a local voice contest in 2006, received no payment for her services besides the dubious “satisfaction of knowing her voice will be played 33,017 times a day.”

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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