Iratxe Gómez is from Vitoria, in northern Spain’s Basque Country, and – though you would never know it – she says “good morning” to people across the country every day. She tells them whether it will be hot or whether it will rain, or where they can find the book they want at the best price. Sometimes, she even tells jokes. Her other name might sound more familiar: Siri. This English teacher is the voice of Apple’s personal assistant.
“The original, the first version,” corrects Iratxe. Her voice was included on the iPhone 5, a tremendous opportunity that came to her by chance: “I was giving classes and one day, the mother of one of my students came looking for a native speaker who could do recordings in Spanish and English for a telephone banking service.”
And just like that, she became a pivotal part of the text-to-speech application designed by the California brand used by millions of people across the world. “We were in a recording studio in Vitoria for three weeks, with an average of five or six hours each day, speaking around 2,500 phrases.” That was the process of creating Siri, whom Iratxe regards as hilarious: “They were telling me to imagine a smile on her face, but to not let it show in her voice in any way. I had to be neutral, serious, sharp, but without rudeness. Siri is robotic and a bit Basque.”
I keep hearing my own voice out there: I never know who I am recording it for
“Hello, what can I help you with?” These are the movie theaters that I have found near you.”
“I do not know how to imitate the sound of a dog, but I can remind you to take it for a walk.”
She has responses for almost everything, an endless list. Phrases that form part of a catalog of responses assigned by computer algorithms to answer a question adequately. “There are expressions of every type. Many are only a few words, but others are much longer. It is not like reading a text, where everything is more fluid. Here, there is no connection between one thing and another.”
However, among the many lines recorded, Iratxe has a clear favorite. “What is the result of dividing zero by zero? Iratxe, and Siri, respond: “Imagine that you have zero cookies and you split them evenly among zero friends. How many cookies does each person get? See? It doesn’t make sense. And Cookie Monster is sad that there are no cookies, and you are sad that you have no friends.”
After three weeks of work with a fairly sarcastic script, suddenly, one day, “I discovered that I was Siri through the television,” Iratxe recalls. The final phase, the post-production, was completed in Europe, and Apple never notified her that she had been selected. “My voice is now on many GPS and navigation systems for vehicles as well. I keep hearing my own voice out there, but normally, I never know who I am recording it for,” she adds.
Perhaps you are wondering what type of phone she has. Well, it is not an iPhone. “I was living in China until recently, and Apple does not allow you to use two SIM cards, so I chose to buy a Chinese phone that would allow me to use my Spanish number as well.” Even in China, Iratxe admits to having “suffered” from the fame: “Given how they are with technology, as soon as they learned that I was the voice of Siri in Spanish, they were jumping over each other to check it out for themselves.”
English version by Henry Hahn.