Susan Bennett is the original voice of Apple’s Siri. “Steve Jobs’ Siri,” as she puts it. That makes her the most recognizable digital voice in the world. And it all happened without her knowledge.
Imagine: you do some work for an hourly wage, and then–surprise!–you’re the voice for Apple’s most popular product.
I interviewed Susan about her accidental journey to fame. You can listen to the full interview here.
Susan also answered questions from some of our Twitter followers. Want to see how the real Siri responds when she’s not programmed by Apple?
1. “What’s the most difficult thing about being a celebrity robot personality?” @eneleff
Susan: Well, I think it has to do with the unexpected part. You know, most famous people go after that in one way or another. If you plan to be an actor, of course, you want to be a famous actor and make a lot of money and become well known. I never aspired to the fame, and so that’s been the strangest part of it all.
2. “If you had to listen to only one voice all day whose would it be?” @spinningkates
Susan: Oh wow, that is a very good question. Well, you know like the rest of the world I do love Morgan Freeman’s voice. That would be a nice one. Boy, there are so many voices out there that I hear on radio and TV that I can’t really identify, there are just a lot of beautiful voices. So I guess you’ll have to stick with Morgan Freeman because I can’t think of anyone else off hand. Except mine, maybe.
3. “Why is your name Siri?” @_keymdnash_
Susan: Well, many people don’t realize that Apple did not create Siri. Siri was created by three engineers, Tom Gruber, Adam Cheyer, and Dag Kittlaus from Norway. And in Norwegian the word Siri means “beautiful woman who guides you to victory.” Of course we know better, she’s the feisty chick who tells you where to go, right.
But, Dag and his wife were expecting a child and they thought it was going to be a girl, and they planned to name her Siri. But when the baby arrived it was a boy. So they gave the name to the app instead. And that’s where Siri got her name.
How did we get our Twitter followers to submit their questions? Here’s the typeform we posted on social media feeds:
4. “Do you imagine your ex-boyfriends having to listen to your voice every day?” @spinningkates
Susan: No, as a matter of fact it didn’t even occur to me. But that’s a great question. No, I think they would probably just throw the phone away and go get a Samsung. [laughs]
5. “How do you feel about people messing with Siri?” @jharmn @iamsancar
Susan: Surprisingly I don’t really identify with her that much. It was a different experience for me. As I said, I don’t really interact with voices.
So consequently Siri is not a personality for me, she is not my friend, she’s not someone I deal with on a regular basis. So there’s a little bit of a disconnect there. I think that maybe subconsciously I’ve tried to do that because, you know, I’d like to think that I’m still Susan Bennett and not Siri.
“Siri is not a personality for me, she is not my friend, she’s not someone I deal with on a regular basis.”
6. “What are you sick of being asked?” @explorerteddy
Susan: Well, I’ll have to say that most people do end up asking the same questions, and I think it has to do with the fact that people are surprised that there’s a human voice behind Siri, uh: “Siri isn’t real.”
7. “Hum, what is happiness?” @SaidAmra
Susan: Wow. Well first of all, I don’t think it’s an absolute state. I think that happiness comes and goes, but I think a lot of it has to do with personal relationships and feeling a sense of accomplishment in your own life, which also involves doing good things for other people.
8. “I want to do voiceovers. Any advice?” @ChristaOlenczak @Preston_K13
Susan: Well, if people would like to contact me through my website—which is susancbennett.com—you can reach me via email, and I will send you a little doc that I put together because a lot of people ask me this question.
The voice-over industry has been totally, totally revolutionized by technology. It’s nothing like it was 15 or 20 years ago. And a lot of people want to get involved in it, and therefore there is a ton of competition. And like everything else in this technological world, you’re on your own in terms of promotion and getting things started.
The good news is there are some production companies, pay-to-play sites like Voice123, that you can join and, regardless of how experienced you are, you will have the opportunity to audition, and that’s key. Learning to audition is key. Because you have to audition all the time.
Want to hear the whole interview? It comes with an interactive tour of intelligent tech: Siri is dying. Long live Susan Bennett.