By JENNA MARTIN, The Augusta Chronicle

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) _ Whether it’s giving sports score updates or naming the hottest restaurant in town, the voice heard by millions of iPhone users took center stage at Augusta’s Legends Club on Tuesday.

Atlanta voice-over artist Susan Bennett, the original voice of Apple virtual assistant Siri, told attendees of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual Women in Business Signature Event that it all started in July 2005, when she spent four hours a day, five days a week in her personal recording studio speaking words for a text-to-speech company, not knowing what would become of her recordings.

On Oct. 4, 2011, Apple launched its iPhone 4S and along with it, Bennett’s voice, now recognized across the globe as Siri. But Bennett had no idea.

Shortly after the launch, Bennett received an e-mail from a colleague who suspected she was the voice of the new digital assistant. Once Bennett visited the Apple Web site and listened for herself, she knew it was true.

“All of us who recorded those original Siri voices had no idea (we) were recording Siri,” Bennett said. “It was complete and utter surprise.”

Because Apple purchased Bennett’s voice from a third-party company, not from her directly, she was not contractually required to keep her role a secret.

As Siri, Bennett’s voice has responded to questions, provided directions, given weather forecasts, helped users navigate iPhone apps and myriad other tasks designed to simplify daily life.

Bennett, who started out as a singer in the Northeast, has spent the past four decades in Atlanta as a voice artist.

She has lent her vocal cords as the voice of cartoon character Betty Boop, and for radio and TV voice-overs featuring Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, AT&T, Six Flags, Macy’s, Ford and dozens of other companies.

She has been an on-camera spokeswoman for Geor¡gia Pacific, Chick-fil-A and Kimberly Clark, and has done background vocals for composer Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Recently celebrating its third anniversary, Siri has quickly gained a spot in pop-culture history, appearing on hit TV shows including The Big Bang Theory, while also being made fun of in commercials such as Microsoft’s recent ad promoting its new Windows Phone 8.1 and smartphone assistant Cortana.

“I’ve never been a great fan of denigrating someone else to make yourself look better, so from that point of view I don’t think it’s so great,” Bennett said. “It’s advertising. That’s about all I can say.”

Bennett said advances in technology started to reshape her industry in the mid-’90s and digital voice programs like Siri are going to become more adept at picking up accents and providing quicker answers.

“I think as some of these corporations move toward artificial intelligence, which is definitely coming, a lot of these digital voices are going to be able to predict what you want even before you ask for it, particularly in reference to what you buy,” she said.


Information from: The Augusta Chronicle ,