Majel Barrett was known to Trek fans as the “First Lady” of Star Trek. Barrett wasn’t just Gene Roddenberry’s wife though. She was also a Star Trek star in her own right. Her first role in the Star Trek universe was as the First Officer of the Enterprise in the pilot episode of TOS. When TOS was finally picked up, her role was changed and she portrayed Nurse Christine Chapel for the rest of the show’s run. In the later Trek series, Barrett had a recurring role as Lwaxana Troi, mother of the Enterprise’s counselor Deanna Troi.
However, Barrett’s most iconic and enduring role in the Star Trek universe is arguably her role as the voice of the ship’s computer.
Was Barrett’s Voice Used for Siri?
Majel's voice is recorded phonetically, &we're working to get her voice for things such as Siri, maybe voice of the computer on #STDiscovery
— RODDENBERRY #thinkTREK🖖 for Gene's Centennial (@roddenberry) September 4, 2016
After Barrett passed in 2008, her son, Rod Roddenberry announced on Twitter that they’d been able to capture every vocal sound necessary to technologically recreate his mother’s voice. So, using old recordings of Barrett’s voice, companies like Apple could employ a process called phonemes analysis to create new audio files in Barrett’s voice.
According to ExtremeTech, when companies want to use a celebrity’s voice for an application but don’t have specific lines for them to say, they have the celebrities say sentences that include all of the phonetic sounds in the language, called phonemes. The sentences are then run through a computer program and broken down to the phonemes. Those phonemes can then be put back together to make pretty much any word, sentence, or phrase in the language.
In order to authentically recreate a person’s voice from old recordings, the recordings must include all the necessary phonemes. Roddenberry’s confirmation that his mother’s voice had been phonetically recorded meant that it would be possible to recreate her voice for future audio.
Though Roddenberry mentioned plans to get Barrett’s voice as a customized option for the iPhone virtual assistant Siri, those plans have not yet come to fruition. It’s not clear why the recordings haven’t been used yet, though fans have suggested that it might be an issue with who owns the rights to the voice recordings.
In 2011, rumors were flying about Google’s Project Majel. According to Fast Company, the project was Google’s attempt to create a virtual assistant to rival Siri. The name of the project led some fans to believe that Google was planning to use Barrett’s voice for their virtual assistant, which would mean they’d bought the rights to the phonetic recordings. However, Google did not confirm that they’d purchased those rights.
Bringing the Ship’s Computer to Life
Barrett recorded her voice for every one of the legacy Star Trek shows. In Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, Barrett’s voice was the default voice of the ship’s computer. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Barrett voiced the Federation computer system. In Star Trek: Enterprise she voiced the computer on the mirror universe ship and the computer on the Enterprise-D, which appeared in the finale.
Right before she passed away in 2008, Barrett recorded her voice for the J.J. Abrams movie reboot of the franchise. Though her voice has appeared in other Star Trek media since then, the recordings she made for 2009’s Star Trek were the last she made for the Star Trek universe.
According to StarTrek.com, the producers of Star Trek: Discovery really wanted to use Barrett’s voice for the ship’s computer. They considered using voice tracks from the legacy Star Trek shows and digitally manipulating them. However, the task proved too formidable, so they used a different voice actor for Discovery’s computer.
Though Barrett’s voice currently doesn’t live on in contemporary Star Trek series or iPhones around the world, her legacy is kept alive every time fans hear, “Computer.”
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