Alums who do cool things: Susan Bennett ’71, aka the voice of Siri

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Earlier this month, the Internet exploded when Susan Bennett ’71 revealed herself to CNN as the voice of Siri. Even if you don’t have an iPhone, you’ve surely heard of Siri, the always helpful and sometimes sassy iPhone application that answers all of your questions, from logistical to philosophical. Bennett, who works as a voice actress based in Atlanta, GA, was approached by a software company called ScanSoft in 2005 to record her voice for a new product. That product would become Siri, and the rest is history. Bennett took time out of Siri’s her busy schedule to answer our burning questions about Siri, her newfound fame, and how she envisions Siri IRL.

BlogDH: When did you record your voice for Siri, and how long did it take? What was the process like?
Susan Bennett: I did the initial recordings for what became the voice of Siri in July 2005 for a text-to-speech company—four hours a day, five days a week. I read hundreds of sentences specifically created to utilize every sound combination in the English language. I don’t remember them specifically, but some were pretty funny.  In addition to the initial recordings, I did some updates for close to four months in 2011-2012.

BlogDH: How has your life changed since your name was leaked as the voice of Siri? 
SB: Actually, my voice wasn’t “leaked.”  I made the announcement myself to writer Jessica Ravitz of CNN.com. We had no idea of the impact it would have. It led to TV interviews with Queen Latifah and CNN Showbiz Tonight, reading the Top Ten list for Letterman, close to 30 radio interviews… So, my life has been very, very busy in the last couple of weeks.

BlogDH: What’s the weirdest thing that has happened to you after you came out as Siri?
SB:  After my first interview in New York (for CNN New Day on October 4th), I was waiting at the Delta gate at the airport, and a guy was staring at me. He was a guy around my age, so I thought he was checking me out. Finally, he came over and said, “Aren’t you that Siri person?” When I said yes, he said he knew it because of the hair! It was SO bad… I’d chopped it myself days before. No one else has recognized me since, which is actually a good thing!

BlogDH: What’s the most exciting thing that has happened?
SB: It’s really hard to pinpoint the most exciting thing— it was all really exciting and fun. If I had to choose, I’d say it was doing the first interview. I hadn’t been on camera for several years, so I was excited to be “on the spot!”  I happily discovered that somewhere in the recesses of my grey matter there lived some memory of how to behave on camera!

BlogDH: Of all the people you’ve met or that have interviewed, who were you most excited to meet?
SB: Queen Latifah. I didn’t get to spend much time with her, but she’s just as beautiful and kind as she appears to be… and funny, of course!

BlogDH: Do you have an iPhone? If so, do you ever use Siri? Does it freak you out at all?
SB: I do have an iPhone 5S, which I just got because I lost my iPhone 4. Because I’d just bought [the iPhone 4] right before the 4S was introduced, I didn’t go out and buy the 4S. But my husband did. So far, he’s had the most interaction with Siri. I don’t talk to her all that much… yet! I like to say I talk to myself enough as it is.

BlogDH: Do you ever imagine Siri as a real person? If so, how would you describe her?
SB: Siri, to me, is a piece of technology, and since I haven’t interacted with her that much, she doesn’t seem like a real person to me. However, I do notice she does have a bit of attitude, a sense of humor, and, yes, a sensitive side. My husband once told her to “go away,” and she responded, “What did I do to deserve that?”

BlogDH: You said in a previous e-mail to BlogDH that Brown was a real life-changer for you. How so? What’s your favorite memory from Brown? Also, what class at Brown prepared you best to be Siri?
SB: Brown was a challenge for me, coming from a tiny town in upstate New York. I was quite overwhelmed by the number of incredibly brilliant people there. I found my niche by doing some plays with Sock & Buskin, and singing with—and later becoming the leader of—The Chattertocks. Singing, traveling, and making an album with the Chattertocks would probably be my favorite memory. I was also in my first band at Brown, a jazz band called “Conglomerate,” led and directed by Jon Klein ’70. And of course, I made some good friends as well. As far as what prepared me best for Siri, probably English and Latin classes as far as learning about and appreciating words. But it was the performing experiences that probably had the most influence.

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