Dezeen Magazine

Q is the world's first gender-neutral voice technology

Creative agency Virtue has partnered with Copenhagen Pride to develop the world's first genderless voice, which aims to eradicate bias in technology.

Called Q, the gender-neutral voice provides an alternative to technology such as Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant that all use female voices for home and service-orientated roles.

"As voice-assisted platforms become more pervasive in our lives, technology companies are continuing to gender their voice tech to fit scenarios in which they believe consumers will feel more comfortable adopting and using it," said Virtue.

"A male voice is used in more authoritative roles, such as banking and insurance apps, and a female in more service-orientated roles, such as Alexa and Siri," explained the agency.

Five voices were recorded and modulated

To begin with, Virtue worked together with Anna Jørgensen, a linguist and researcher at the University of Copenhagen, to define what is meant by a gender-neutral voice.

Five voices that were not immediately associated with either male or female binaries were recorded. These were then modulated using a special voice software that uses Jørgensen's research on gendered voices to "neutralise" the voices.

The modulated voices were tested in a Europe-wide survey with over 4,600 participants, where people were asked to rate each voice on a scale of one (male) to five (female).

After settling on a single voice, the design studio modulated the voice and tested it until it was perceived as gender-neutral by participants.

"Technology should be rooted in new cultural truths, rather than antiquated ones. Using data and insights from our global network, we identified a unique opportunity to progress a medium of technology becoming more pervasive in our everyday lives," said Virtue's Ryan Sherman and Emil Asmussen.

Gender-neutral voice could be used in public spaces

"Q represents not the voice of one, but the voice of many who are fighting for a future inclusive of everyone," they continued.

Q was launched on 11 March 2019 at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Although an AI framework has not yet been developed to use the genderless voice in practice, Virtue and Copenhagen Pride are working towards implementing it across the technological spectrum.

They hope to find a place for it "not only in voice-assisted products but also as a voice for metro stations, games, theatres and beyond".

High-profile technology organisations are still displaying a gender bias against women. Earlier this year, organisers at CES revoked an innovation award from female-led sex toy startup Lora DiCarlo's hands-free robotic massager for being "immoral".