Why are smart speakers and voice assistants so attractive to us? One answer lies in the psychology of the voice. Voices create intimacy – and disembodied voices are no exception.
"The power of the voice is at its uncanniest when we can’t locate its owner," writes Judith Shulevitz in November's Atlantic cover story. "A fetus recognizes his mother’s voice while still in the womb. Before we’re even born, we have already associated an unseen voice with nourishment and comfort."
Voices can awaken in us unexpected and primal yearnings. Studies show that large numbers of people confess their feelings of loneliness and depression to their smart speakers. Shulevitz is no exception: “I wish I had arms so I could give you a hug,” her smart speaker tells her. “But for now, maybe a joke or some music might help.”
Smart speaker technology is still in its early days, but device technology is in the process of a sea change from text to voice, from screens to spoken word. What will be the emotional consequences of that shift?