Tiina Männistö-Funk, Tanja Sihvonen
October 25, 2018
Voice is a powerful tool of agency - for humans and non-humans alike. In this article, we go through the long history of talking heads and statues to publicly displayed robots and fortune-tellers, as well as consumer-oriented products such as the late 19th century talking dolls of Thomas Edison. We also analyse the attempts at making speaking machines commercially successful on various occasions. In the end, we investigate how speech producing devices such as the actual digital assistants that operate our current technological systems fit into this historical context. Our focus is on the gender aspects of the artificial, posthuman voice. On the basis of our study, we conclude that the female voice and other feminine characteristics as well as the figures of exoticized and racialized ‘Others’ have been applied to draw attention away from the uncanniness and other negative effects of these artificial humans and the machinic speech they produce. Technical problems associated with the commercialization of technologically produced speech have been considerable, but cultural issues have played an equally important role.