Perhaps one of the most recognizable (and accidentally sets off) voice in America, Amazon’s Alexa sounds like an AI With her broken phrasing, eerie calm, and eerie approximation of gentle consumption, Alexa can be heard in households from sea to shining sea, ordering toilet paper, agreeing to play the new Maroon 5, and laughing at inappropriate time.
Considering how Amazon’s state-of-the-art business model has grown from being the world’s largest book retailer to one of the world’s leading providers of work abuse, it would be fair to assume that Alexa is not a real person. Many probably believe that this is an ethereal, amorphous digital spectrum that haunts every home with an Alexa unit responding to people on TV who say its name. But, according to Brad Stone, author of the next Amazon unrelated, Alexa’s voice is interpreted by a voice-over in flesh and blood.
In an excerpt from the book published on Wired Today, Stone names Nina Rolle, a Colorado-based voice over artist, as the woman behind billions of purchases and, aforementioned, the gruesome and unsettling laughs. Of course, neither Rolle nor Amazon have confirmed Stone’s reporting, but they haven’t denied it either.
Stone’s research, which he based on discussions with members of the voice-over community in Boulder, Colorado, describes Alexa’s selection process in the clip. He writes:
Believing that choosing the right voice for Alexa was essential, [then-Amazon exec Greg] Hart and his colleagues spent months reviewing the tapes of various candidates produced by GM Voices for the project and presented the top picks to Bezos. The Amazon team ranked the best, requested additional samples, and ultimately made a choice. Bezos approved it. Secret feature, Amazon never revealed the name of the voice artist behind Alexa. I learned her identity after surveying the professional voiceover community: Boulder, Colorado-based actress and singer Nina Rolle. Her professional website has links to old radio commercials for products like Mott’s Apple Juice and the Volkswagen Passat – and the warm timbre of Alexa’s voice is unmistakable. Rolle said she was not allowed to speak to me when I contacted her by phone in February 2021. When I asked Amazon to speak to her, they refused.
Write for the Edge, James Vincent presents a compelling argument for Rolle’s role in Alexa. Vincent offers two Rolle performances that sound quite close to the world-famous personal shopper AI:
Listen to the videos below: the first an advertisement for Cherry Creek North, “Denver’s premier outdoor retail destination,” and the second an intro to Hapyn, a social app that now appears to be extinct (its Play Store Entrance was last updated in 2017). You can absolutely hear the reassuring tones of Alexa in Rolle’s voice. Or, to be more precise, you can absolutely hear where the reassuring tones of Alexa are coming from when you listen to Rolle.
If Rolle turns out to be Alexa, it will be the long-awaited sequel to artist Susan Bennett’s voiceover in 2013. The money is better worth it (which it probably is) because recording those recordings digital assistants looks awful. Bennett didn’t seem embarrassed, however – mainly because it didn’t seem like she knew she was recorded for Siri.
“There are people who can read hour after hour, and that’s okay,” Bennett said. CNN. “For me, I’m extremely bored. So I just take breaks. This is one of the reasons Siri can sometimes make it seem like she has a little attitude. These sounds may have been recorded in the last 15 minutes of those four hours. “