It is Mother’s Day, and there is one unlikely mother who is also celebrating today: Susan Bennett, the woman who brought Apple’s AI assistant Siri to life with her voice. In a recent interview with Typeform, she talked about her experience and how it changed her life.
Apple first made the prediction of a voice-interactive interface in an ad during the 80s, which set that fictional prototype in the month of September of 2011. The real Siri, coincidentally, debuted just one month later, in October of that same year.
Industry experts estimate Siri has answered over a billion questions since its introduction nearly six years ago. Although Bennett has since been replaced with someone else’s voice, she is still a part of the history of technology as the first human voice synthesized to be a virtual assistant.
Bennett is more famous than you might think
In 2005, Susan Bennett had a recognized trajectory as a voice actress, lending her voice to iconic companies. In her hometown of Atlanta, she sang a jingle for the first ATM by the First National Bank back in the 1970s.
In the summer of that year, however, she was hired by ScanSoft to record lines for a secret project related to phone messaging. Bennett spent four hours every day, five days a week in a recording studio for a couple of months, repeating strange lines of text that sometimes made no sense at all.
“MALITIA OI HALLUCINATE, BUCKRY OCKRA OOZE, CATHEXIS FEFATELLY SEXUAL EASE STUMP, SAY THE SHRODDING AGAIN, SAY THE SHRODING AGAIN, SAY THE SHREEDING AGAIN, SAY THE SHRIDING AGAIN, SAY THE SHRADING AGAIN, SAY THE SHRUDDING AGAIN.”
It happened two years before the iPhone debuted, and six years before Siri debuted on iOS 5. ScanSoft eventually merged with Nuance, and Apple made them an offer to buy the entire Siri project and library outright to implement on its systems.
In 2011, after Siri launched on iOS mobile devices, Bennett’s colleagues rang her up to confirm that it was her. She had no idea that her voice had been synthesized and processed to assist millions of iPhone and iPad users.
Because her contract with SoftScan involved rescinding the rights over the use of her voice and a non-disclosure agreement, she had no issue with coming out and revealing herself as the original voice of Siri.
Apple, not a fan of having their projects in the public eye, replaced Bennett’s voice with someone else’s two years later in 2013. Still, having been involved in such a large-scale development in the tech industry opened up undreamt opportunities like giving her own TED Talk and presenting Steve Wozniak at the Dallas Digital Summit.
Susan Bennett, now 68 years old, still lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband. Sometimes when she goes out, people find her voice familiar, and a few recognize her as the voice in their phones.