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In Star Trek all Federation computers have a human female voice, provided by Gene Roddenbery's wife Majel Barrett. This, of course, is the out of universe reason; however is there ever an in universe reason given? With the Federation being a multi-gender, multi-species organization why a humanoid female voice? Is the voice based on someone related to the LCARS systems?

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    Given that the vast majority of Federation races seem to have two sexes, it would have to be one or the other, no? – Plutor Aug 8 '13 at 14:27
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    Does the fact that Siri is a girl bother you? – E.T. Aug 8 '13 at 14:44
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    FWIW, there have been several ships seen throughout the various series which had male voices. The Excelsior had a male voice originally, as did the original refit Enterprise in the TOS movies, and I'm pretty sure the Prometheus did too in Voyager (pretty sure on that, been a while since watched the episode). I know there were also a hand full of others, but can't recall them right now. – eidylon Aug 8 '13 at 18:20
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    Pretty simple: A male computer voice will always make people think of HAL. Even in the future. I cannot let you do that, Dave... – Zommuter Aug 9 '13 at 12:49
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    There have been human factors studies on this. The Air Force (or whomever they hired to do the research) found that fighter pilots responded better to female voices in automatic warning systems ("pull up", "missile lock", etc.) than to male. Also, the tonal range of female voices was more easily heard over ambient noise in fighter cockpits. More recently some of the voice-warning systems in commercial aircraft have been using a female-ish, but clearly artificial voice; perhaps this is done to alert the pilots that it IS coming from the avionics and not from one of the many radios. – Jamie Hanrahan Aug 11 '14 at 17:31
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There are two parts here:

1) Why human?

How do you know it's a human voice? Out of universe, we know Majel Barrett is human, and we know that she also played Christine Chapel and Number One (the unnamed second officer under Captain Pike), both humans. But she also played Lwaxana Troi, a Betazoid. And there's nothing in the voice (as far as I can tell) to distinguish it from that of a Bajoran or a Vulcan or any other species. The voice doesn't seem to be Klingon or Ferengi, but that might just be because it's flat, emotionless, and, well, computer-like.

2) Why female?

In-universe (although quasi-canonically), it was Number One who installed the first voice device on the Enterprise and programmed it with her own voice. (This is from Memory-Beta, which cites the novels "The Rift" and "Enterprise: The First Adventure"). She's a human female, so there you go.

Somewhat speculatively, there is some evidence that both men and women find women's voices more pleasing. Research suggests that this might be due to the early bonding between fetuses/infants and their mother. I bet that in a galaxy where there are hundreds of starships using a single programmed voice to get information from the computer -- sometimes in the middle of crisis -- the exact pitch and timbre of the voice has been thoroughly researched.

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    I believe in Star Trek canon (TV and movies), the earliest on-board computer voice on the Enterprise was a sort of high-pitched, very slightly nasally, "robot" voice. Then the computer was serviced by a female-dominated planet, where they thought the computer needed personality, so they gave it a sultry female voice. Then at some point we get the Majel Barrett voice. – Lèse majesté Aug 8 '13 at 17:01
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    @Lèsemajesté - You are thinking of "Tomorrow is Yesterday", where they programmed the computer to do things like call Kirk "dear", because it needed personality. (Technically, I think the overhaul occurred just prior to the events of the episode itself. I haven't seen that episode recently enough to confirm.) – JohnP Aug 8 '13 at 18:03
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    Excellent point with 1). In fact, I'd say that voice is near-identical to the voice of a certain Betazoid character... – MartianInvader Aug 8 '13 at 19:22
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    It doesn't sound a THING like Llwaxana! (sp?) :p – JohnP Aug 8 '13 at 20:29
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    The DS9 computer voice was Judi Durand – Plutor Apr 3 '14 at 15:18
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From "The Making of Star Trek", written by Stephen E Whitfield, and Gene Roddenberry (first published 1968, ISBN 1-85286-363-3, in the "Part II, An Official Biography of a Ship and its Crew", Chapter 2, page 152 it says:

It [the computer] uses a feminine voice, a familiar occurrence, even today. The pre-take-off system on today's F-105 Fighter, for example, speak to the pilots in a female voice because it has been discovered that the feminine voice penetrates noise better and results in improved response by men (and women).

If that's enough for a TV show being made in the 60s, it'd probably be a good enough in-show reason :-)

While I'm not sure it's ever noted during an episode, in "Mirror, Mirror", in TOS, this was the reason why the Mirror Universe computers spoke with a male voice - because it was suggested that in the mirror universe they never did that piece of research, and as a result just used a default male voice instead. (You also see Kirk & McCoy doing a double take when they hear the computer talking)

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There's never any in-universe reason given for the computer's voice being female but in the real world female voices are easier to understand and more pleasant to listen to according to this CNN article. I believe this is also the reason most police dispatchers are female.

Though it's entirely possible that the use of female voices for computers was influenced by Star Trek itself.

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Low-pitched audio frequencies ("bass") are harder to reproduce (cf. subwoofers - dedicated equipment for that) than the high-pitches ones.

So, when it does not matter who the speaker is - e.g., when the sound is computer-generated - it is easier to use female voices.

This is why the vast majority of voices coming out of loudspeakers are female.

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    They can put advanced propulsion and weapons on the ship, but not speakers that can reproduce a wide range of sound. Its only logical! – Jesvin Jose Aug 9 '13 at 5:46
  • This must be why people can never hear me on the phone... Most human voices should be well within the range of cheap stereo speakers that don't come with sub-woofers (which are designed to hit much lower frequencies than human speech would normally reach). – Lèse majesté Aug 9 '13 at 9:59
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It was the voice of Gene Roddenberry's wife, who also played Nurse Chapel on the original show. Gene thought it would be cool to have a sexy computer voice, since at that point, voices of comupters were robotic and male. He thought his wife's voice was very sexy, so he asked her. It was also a way to show how futuristic Star Trek was, too, i.e. - you could make the computer sound any way you wanted. And Kirk, being a lady-killer would naturally choose a sexy-lady voice.

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ships are called with women names. and even though the enterprise is not a woman name they refer it as "she". humanity might follow traditions and traits of the older kind and respect the old times so that would mean a woman voice in the ship is tradition and respect, as for real life story Gene Roddenberry loved hsi wife so he deiced to make her the voice of the computer

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    I don't ever remember any of the crew refer to the ship with the feminine article. They almost always refer to it as either "The Enterprise" or simply "Enterprise" – Monty129 Aug 11 '13 at 13:51
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    @Monty129: Scotty has referred to the ship as 'her' and 'she' before. But not often, and I can't recall anyone else doing so. – Jeff Aug 11 '13 at 15:57
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    @Jeff I can't believe I blanked on "I'm giving her all she's got Captain!" wow, I'll turn in my card now. – Monty129 Aug 11 '13 at 16:57
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    Kirk calls the Enterprise a "beautiful lady" or something similar in I, Mudd. – James Sheridan Mar 13 '14 at 11:14
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One reason for a female voice: real world aircraft cockpit warning systems use recorded female voices because they're known to be more effective at getting flight crews' attention in complicated situations. I'm not sure if this applies equally to female pilots, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

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    Very true, but studies conflict as to whether this attention is worthwhile. Another study shows that while a female voice gets your attention better, a male voice holds your attention better. The "Bitchin' Betty" systems in commercial aircraft are actually male nowadays ("Bitchin' Bob"?), and the military is considering switching. – KeithS Aug 8 '13 at 21:02
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    Interesting, I hadn't known that. A little surprising that it would warrant a switch, though, as I thought cockpit voice warnings were generally quite short ("pull up!"). – Russell Borogove Aug 9 '13 at 22:36
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Flight systems (fighter jets) have female voices because they (used to) stand out of the radio chatter (which used to be all male). Nowadays there's some systems that use a male voice.

Given there's translation everywhere I'd imagine only humans hear a human voice, the rest something more suited to their species.

Why female? Ask the guys who designed the communication system ;). My other answer is: it was 50/50 and then it just became standard. If you don't like it ask the computer to reconfigure for you personally.

  • Correct. See Isaac Asimov's short story Feminine Intuition for a detailed explanation. – b_jonas Oct 29 '14 at 9:39
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Not specific to Star Trek, but general to most computers in movies or real life having a female voice: A voice system for most of them fills the role of a secretary. You make the decisions, the secretary collects/handles/organizes/reports the information. Most secretaries were and still are, female.

While probably not the sole cause, traditions can have an important effect on shaping our views and expectations.

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