2 Black American Siri voices included in new Apple iPhone update

    In 2020, Stanford University researchers published a report that found that voice recognition systems misunderstood Black speakers at almost twice the rate of white ones.

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    On Monday, Apple released its iOS 14.5 update for iPhones and iPads, which features new security, privacy, gaming, message, and personal settings. According to the company, the software update builds “on the reimagined iPhone experience introduced in iOS 14.

    A lot of attention is on the App Tracking Transparency update, which allows users to review which apps have requested permission to collect data and make changes as they see fit. The new feature is causing a rift between Apple and Facebook since advertising and data tracking are vital parts of Facebook’s business model. 

    However, another intriguing feature is the new voices assigned to Siri–Apple’s virtual assistant. Though Apple has not explicitly said what culture or identity the voices are meant to represent, two of them, one male and one female, are described by listeners and media outlets as African American voices in English.

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    “A young Black voice owning that role in a lot of people’s homes is incredibly powerful,” said Jason Allen, a public relations manager told Yahoo. “It says that Black identity and African American identity have value, have legitimacy, and can be trusted here as a partner in searching for information.” 

    Siri now has four voice options, which isn’t a dizzying variety but a step toward inclusivity, which researchers say is needed as the tech landscape continues to evolve. In 2020, Stanford University researchers published a report that found that voice recognition systems created by Amazon, Apple, Google, IBM, and Microsoft misunderstood Black speakers at almost twice the rate of white ones. 

    “I don’t get to negotiate with these devices unless I adapt my language patterns. That’s problematic,” Towson University professor of technical communication and information design, Halcyon Lawrence, said in a 2020 interview with the Scientific American, referring to programs such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.

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    “These new Siri voices use Neural Text to Speech technology for an incredibly natural sound,” reads a statement from Apple’s Newsroom. “These updates further Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, with products and services that are designed to better reflect our customers and the world.” 

    iPhone or iPad users who want to switch it up and take a listen for themselves have to make sure their phone has updated to the iOS 14.5 software. Then users can go to Settings> Siri Search > Siri Voice to find the four-voice options.

    Emoji lovers might also be excited to see more options for skin tones of couples. Additional emojis include face with spiral eyes, face in clouds, hearts on fire, a bandaged heart, and a few others.

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