For over a decade, Siri has been an undeniable part of pop culture. Apple’s personal digital assistant has dialed our loved ones, relayed the latest football scores, checked the weather, provided sassy answers to trivial questions, and more—all in her signature voice.
But who invented her, and who voices her? We’ve got the history on Siri, and it’s full of surprises. Find out more about the software that so many of us rely on to get through our day.
How Did Siri Become Such A Household Name?
Despite Siri’s association with iPhones, it wasn’t designed with Apple in mind. The virtual assistant was invented by an independent company called Siri, Inc. in 2007. Norwegian co-creator Dag Kittalaus named the company and software after a former co-worker whose name he wanted to bestow on a future daughter. In a presentation at Technori Pitch, Kittalaus explained,
So Siri means in Norwegian, ‘beautiful woman who leads you to victory.’ … And also consumer companies need to focus on the fact that the name is easy to spell, is easy to say…
Kittlaus also revealed that Siri was originally designed for use in Blackberry and Android devices. But in 2010, after a meeting with Steve Jobs, his company was sold to Apple for $200 million, effectively preventing its use by rival operating systems.
Siri originally had far more attitude than it does today. For instance, if you asked it to find the nearest gym, it would troll you with the reply, “Yeah, your grip feels weak.” Kittlaus described it as having a “dry wit” and armed Siri with the ability to drop F-bombs in its interactions with users.
But with Apple’s acquisition, Siri had a digital glow-up. Later iterations included voice replies (the previous version only provided written answers) and the ability to speak in multiple languages. It also rid itself of the potty mouth.
Siri may have evolved into a faster, smarter, and more proper version of itself, but it still retains a sense of humor. Ask if it’s a Republican or Democrat and it will suggest you try having that conversation with a fellow human. Ask it to talk dirty to you and you’ll be shamed with a demand to vacuum your carpet.
Who Is The Voice Of Siri?
Siri will tell you that it’s genderless, “like cacti or some species of fish.” But its voice is distinctly female and—to the surprise of many—not an invention of AI. In 2013, it was revealed that Siri’s countless phrases were the work of voiceover actress Susan Bennett.
The discovery of Siri’s identity involved serious research. When Apple declined to confirm anything, CNN hired Ed Primeau, an audio forensics expert, to help study recordings of both Bennett and Siri. “I believe, and I’ve lived this for 30 years, no two voices are the same,” he told the news outlet. “They are identical – a 100% match.”
“I understand the importance of accuracy,” he reiterated. “Rest assured: It’s 100 percent Susan.”
Even Bennett herself, who is not bound by any nondisclosure agreement, confessed that it’s her voice. She told CNN that in July 2005, she spent four hours a day in a home recording booth reading nonsensical phrases. Snippets of the recordings were then synthesized into the words that are heard on our iPhones today. She also gave a funny explanation for some of Siri’s sometimes-haughty tone.
There are some people that just can read hour upon hour upon hour, and it’s not a problem. For me, I get extremely bored … So I just take breaks. That’s one of the reasons why Siri might sometimes sound like she has a bit of an attitude. Those sounds might have been recorded the last 15 minutes of those four hours.
Bennett has had an accomplished career outside her work for Apple. According to her website, she has done spots for Coca-Cola, IBM, McDonald’s, AT&T, Wendy’s, and Goodyear. She has also appeared on camera for Ford, GA Pacific, IBM, and Kimberly Clark, but told CNN she prefers voice work because it provides a comfortable level of anonymity. Listen as Bennett discusses her experience recording Siri’s voice with the cable news network:
Bennett has even dabbled in music, performing as a live backup vocalist for Burt Bacharach and Roy Orbison. She currently plays with her husband Rick in a 1960s and ’70s rock and soul band cleverly named Boomers Gone Wild!
What Is Susan Bennett Doing Today?
Bennett is capitalizing on her newfound fame. Now that she’s a familiar voice in countless homes, she has built a second career as a public speaker. She’s come a long way from her roots as a Vermont native with a thick New England accent.
Listen to Siri’s life story straight from Bennett’s mouth at this 2016 TEDx Talk:
It’s a trip to match the voice to a face. It’s also a small relief to know that the answers to our daily inquiries involve the work of a real, live human.