Liz W. Faber – The Computer’s Voice, From Star Trek to Siri


University of Minnesota Press, ISBN: 978-1517909765, English, 256 pages, 2022, USA

“Speech synthesis”, as it was called in the early days of personal computing, is now an everyday experience for those using vocal assistants with smartphones or dedicated hardware. It still does not work as smoothly as it should, but it is the most natural interface we can technically afford today. A cultural history of the computer voice is important to understand this properly. This book uses feminist psychological analysis to examine the evolution of computer voices, from early representations in popular narratives to their ultimate embodiment in popular technology. The chapters provide a thorough exploration of gender biased and anthropomorphised speech at various stages. The auditory domain, the ideology of technology and the representation of intelligence are researched through an interstitial chronology of films depicting talking machines. Faber’s definition of the “acousmatic computer” reflects these concepts perfectly. In the final section, there is an in-depth analysis of the film Her, and in particular the duality of Scarlett Johannson being visible and invisible through her voice, defining a “post-corporeal” movie. Although some arguments are challenging, such as the identification of Siri with the iPhone screen, which is touchable, The Computer’s Voice is an exquisite book, informative and inspiring.