Silence of the RAMS: Talking Machines

Silence of the RAMS: Talking Machines

I’m taking this opportunity to share my favourite type of voiceover performance. Rarely acknowledged, occasionally frustrating, vitally important and frequently totally insane: It’s the Computer Voice.I’ve always had a bit of soft spot for computer voices, not least because I REALLY want to be one.

I dreamed of being the voice of the Tardis until Neil Gaiman and Stephen Moffatt knocked that on the head with their “Doctor’s Wife” episode, good as it was. Honestly, I’m not bitter.

So that leaves starships, supercomputers and robots in everything from video games to films,  most of which eventually turn completely and utterly bonkers and attempt to wipe out their creators, their planet, or pretty much everything really. Usually they’re cool, emotionless, sexy, female voices, especially in computer games. You can guess who designs and builds these machines can’t you? For example EDI, the computer from the video game Mass Effect 2.

But maybe you’d like something a bit older, with a bit more authority perhaps – how about the ultimate starship computer, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry as the voice of the USS Enterprise…

But then it’s a short and slippery slope to something more inane, which if your ship is about to blow itself to bits this announcement from the ship’s computer in Spaceballs might actually be exactly what you need.

Or worse, you’ve gone from building a sexy, husky, dominatrix, foxy voxy computer to a machine that sounds like your mother. Especially if like Big and Little Howard you CALL it Mother…
And then the slope gets positively slick with WD40 and your inane but obedient computer starts going insane. It refuses to answer you. You know it’s lying to you.  It’s making changes to your flight plan/communications/breakfast without telling you. Its gently soothing voice starts sounding creepy and that clever acronym which made a rather handy nickname doesn’t seem quite so cute now, does it? …

Moon’s GERTY

From I Robot’s VIKI  and Moon’s GERTY, inevitably of course we come to the most batshit crazy computer of them all: HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was supposed to be calm, reassuring and gently persuasive.  Then slowly, gradually he becomes dreamily, utterly mad as a bottle of chips until Dave has no option but to hit control, alt, delete….

Now come on. What voice actor wouldn’t want to play a role like that? 

That’s why I want to be a computer voice.



I originally wrote this post in 2011. Since then, there’s a new arrival in my house: Alexa, Amazon Echo’s virtual assistant and seemingly, an early version of Scarlett Johansson’s Her. She’s worryingly responsive, easy to use – the perfect handsfree cooking timer –  and her voice recognition is top notch, except after a couple of glasses of wine. (Me, not her.)

See? It’s a she. ALREADY.

The intelligent machines have arrived and they’re taking over. Especially if you want your dinner perfectly cooked.