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Here's who we want to voice our home AI systems

Here's who we want to voice our home AI systems


Mark Zuckerberg is crowdsourcing his, but we're getting personal for ours

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Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that as his "personal challenge" side project for 2016, he was programming an artificial intelligence to run his home — a basic AI that could control the lights and temperature, play music on command, unlock the door for recognized friends, and so on. He compared it to J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark's constant computerized companion in Marvel's Iron Man films. (At least until J.A.R.V.I.S. merges with a newly created superhero, Vision, but that's a different story, and presumably Zuckerberg is leaving that as a personal challenge for a different year.)

Zuckerberg recently posted on Facebook, "It's time to give my AI Jarvis a voice. Who should I ask to do it?" The crowdsourced responses started immediately, with users recommending Paul Bettany (the actor who voiced J.A.R.V.I.S. in the MCU films), The Dalai Lama, the late Robin Williams, Donald Trump, and a lot more. Robert Downey Jr. also stepped up and said he'd be willing to take the job himself.

When this question came up at The Verge, many people responded with "There's only one obvious choice," but then they all named different people. So clearly there's no real consensus for Zuckerberg. He has deep pockets, and can probably get just about anyone who's alive and wants a paycheck to become the voice of his house. But whoever he chooses isn't necessarily who we'd choose. And presuming we're moving toward a future where house AIs are at least as customizable as GPS voices (which have included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Morgan Freeman, and C-3PO), maybe we'll all get to pick our own house voice someday.

So we asked staffers: Who do you want to voice your eventual in-home AI, and why?

Chris Plante, senior editor: Madeline Kahn. The late comedian had many great roles, including Mrs. White in Clue. ("Flames! On the side of my face!") But my dream AI assistant would sound like Khan's Mrs. Munchnick rapping over a toy beatbox in the forgotten Nora Ephron comedy Mixed Nuts. You don't remember Mixed Nuts, the Christmas movie set in a Los Angeles suicide-hotline call bank? Fortunately, when my Madeline Khan AI becomes the default on smartphones nationwide, you will become very familiar with the performance. Each morning, we will enjoy being woken up to the actress screaming: "Hey! Hey! Hey hey hey! Hey! Yoo-hoo! Hey! Hey!" Just think about how productive we will be as Mrs. Munchnik refuses to stop screaming until we complete our to-do list and reach inbox zero.

Loren Grush, science reporter: Kathleen Turner. Whenever that woman speaks, I stop whatever I'm doing and listen. It almost puts me into a trance, which is perfect for a computer assistant. When I'm home and an artificially intelligent bot is talking to me, I want to feel relaxed and like I'm slowly falling into a dream. Kathleen's deep pipes are perfect for creating the perfect dream-like reality I want to live in.

Kwame Opam, news editor: Ghostface Killah or Maggie Wheeler (Janice from Friends). I imagine Ghost waking me up in the morning like, "Wake the f*ck up, B." That just makes me laugh. As for Maggie Wheeler, I just think Janice was an underrated character on that series. She was consistent, she was funny, and her fashion sense was tacky enough to come back around to being great. Hearing her say "Oh. My. God." whenever my mother texts would immediately make up for my mother reminding me to call more.


Tasha Robinson, film writer: It's gotta be Antonio Banderas. He isn't exactly the voice of authority anymore, not given the weird comic roles he's been taking lately. For God's sake, he's a burger-thieving slapstick pirate in the latest SpongeBob SquarePants movie. But when he drops into his low-register purr — the exaggerated Latin-lover voice he uses as a weapon in Desperado, or parodies as Puss in Boots in the Shrek movies and their spinoffs — he becomes the voice of attentive, caring, competent comfort. If I'm going to come home from a long day and order my house to make me a drink and put on some music, I want to have Antonio Banderas warmly assuring me that the vodka is perfectly chilled and that it's just fine if I want to default to an Ivy album again, even though everyone else is listening to the latest M.I.A. download.

Elizabeth Lopatto, science editor: This is super easy: Jarvis Cocker. Who doesn't want an English butler? In addition to being a wonderful lyricist and fun performer, both solo and with Pulp, Cocker also hosted a radio show on Sundays, and he's capable of being excited, soothing, and absolutely withering when he needs to be. Probably Jarvis-Jarvis would play some music you hadn't heard before, but that was in keeping with your mood, and he'd make sure to give you his playlist, too, in case you wanted to see what he'd chosen. And as far as getting you out of bed in the morning — this is a literal rock star, it's not like he's a stranger to volume. Also, Pulp's best album, This is Hardcore, is about feeling lonely and terrified of aging, so you wouldn't have to keep up a chipper facade — or a wholesome one. As a bonus, Cocker's dry sense of humor seems spot-on for the Jarvis system.

Adi Robertson, senior reporter: SHODAN! (Technically, musician and game developer Terri Brosius.) Yes, to some extent this is just an irresistible nerd in-joke — SHODAN is the AI villain from the System Shock series, and also a cat I used to own. But in a larger sense, SHODAN is the twisted, charismatic answer to the submissive, invariably female digital secretaries that companies like Apple and Microsoft have given us. She wrung her personality out of the soothing, courteous tones of a space station's PA system, delivering megalomaniacal taunts in an arch, glitchy chorus of voices. She remained unapologetically feminine, but turned that femininity into something frightening and awe-inducing: she wasn't your assistant, she was the machine-mother, and you owed your very existence to her. And after all, we probably shouldn't be friends with our smart houses. If anything, we should be a little afraid of their power — even when they're not sneeringly referring to us as insect.

Andrew Hawkins, transportation reporter: Professor Frink from The Simpsons, because HOYVIN-GLAVIN!

Tamara Warren, senior transportation reporter: I want the customized edition of the voices lost in my own personal space and time, in the spirit of Muhammad Ali's appearance on the British TV show This is Your Life. On rainy days: my father's, when he was young and still healthy, calling me by my childhood nickname. He made swear words sound fun. When I am taking myself too seriously: my Oma and Opa's thick Euro-accents, which only family members could understand. When I'm stressed: my son's cute baby voice, before he could enunciate the "tr" sound. And a mashup of Prince, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Jones on days I want to feel glamorous in my own home.


Michael Moore, reviews coordinator: Norio Wakamoto. No one pronounces words in Japanese or English quite like him. You might not know his name, but if you play video games or watch any anime, you've probably heard his voice. Most notably, he's voiced Cell in Dragon Ball Z, Vicious in Cowboy Bebop, and M. Bison (Vega) in the Street Fightergames. And when the AI assistants eventually turn on us all, at least mine will sound like the really cool villain it deserves to sound like.

Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor: The main role of my house AI will be to wake me up and set various timers, and there's no voice better suited to this task than the commanding persona of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I believe he'd be up for it: the movie star and former pro wrestler already released a free alarm-clock app this year, and by recording a few more expressions, he would bring electrifying new life to my internet of things. Someone rings the doorbell? "What's your name, jabroni?" Time for bed? "Check yourself into the Smackdown Hotel." And he's a natural fit for my kitchen gadgets, of course. Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?

Rachel Becker, science reporter: Award-winning actor Michael Caine. Because who wouldn't want to come home to the voice of Alfred, the man who keeps Batman's secret and who clearly knows how to make a perfect cup of tea? Whose voice would be the worst? Hal, from 2001: A Space Odyssey. If a computer ever sings "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built For Two)" to me, I'm gone.

Andrew Liptak, weekend editor: A lot of people will be going to their favorite actors from films, but as a bibliophile, I feel like I need to draw from another source: audiobooks. Since I read about this, I was trying to think about the qualities an automated personal assistant would need, which basically comes down to a human voice that's easy to understand. My Audible library gave me two good candidates: Simon Vance, who narrated Brian Staveley's Chronicle Of The Unhewn Throne series, and Jefferson Mays, who voiced most of the Expanse novels. Both have extremely steady voices that are pitched perfectly — not too high or too low. Most of all, they're not so distinct or recognizable as to weird me out, unlike someone with a universally recognizable voice, such as Wil Wheaton or Morgan Freeman.

Kaitlyn Tiffany, social media manager: Connie Britton, aka Mrs. Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. (The TV series, not the garbage film!) I feel like Mrs. Coach would know when to push me and when to let it lie, and when to suggest a glass of wine as big as my torso. She would definitely know when it's time to turn on some slow and sad tunes. It would be like having the world's most understanding roommate, but never having to reciprocate. Mrs. Coach Taylor has a slight Texas accent — she would call me "darlin'" and I would be okay with it. (I usually find that rude.) Mrs. Coach is a pretty good mom and a very good educator, two things I think we can all use in our tiny apartments, even when our actual moms and educators are hundreds of miles away. She would provide me with useful facts and cooking tips. In the mornings, when she woke me up with a peppy rendition of "Walking On Sunshine," I might, in my grogginess, say, "Mom?" And she wouldn't make me feel weird about it. Most importantly, Mrs. Coach does not take any sass from rude football players or her lovably dumb husband. I do not want my AI assistant to take guff from men.

Lizzie Plaugic, news editor: It's only slightly embarrassing to me to be very predictable when it comes to certain things, so I feel fine (more than fine, in fact) admitting in a public forum that I would want Conor Oberst to be the voice of my home assistant. The Bright Eyes frontman has a warbling little croon that can jockey between edge-of-cliff creakiness and blistering aggression just as easily as it can sound like a tender lullaby. It feels impossible to overstate how much my quality of life would probably improve if each night, Conor could tell me the proper baking temperature for Arctic char, or remind me to hydrate. Could this lead to a nightmarish Joaquin Phoenix situation in which I develop a deeply intimate relationship with my AI and refuse to leave my home, rendering myself more lonely than I ever have been before, and yet completely unaware of it? There's only one way to find out.

Angela Chen, science reporter: I just want the voice of my childhood enemy, whose name shall not be revealed. A virtual assistant is for bossing around. It does your bidding. It caters to your petty and self-indulgent needs. I rest my case.