Julie Carpenter, Ph.D.

People+Technology+Culture

Project Q, the world's first gender-neutral voice for use with technology

As an independent research advisor to a team including Copenhagen Pride, Virtue/VICE Nordic, and the University of Copenhagen, we developed Project Q, the world’s first gender-neutral voice for use with technology.

Q began as a proof of concept project whose goals we identified as 1) contributing positively to the ongoing global discussion about gender, identity, and technology, 2) demonstrating that developing a human-based voice as a gender-neutral voice option is possible, and 3) showing evidence of the significance of omission, inclusivity, and representation in AI research and design. Additionally, Virtue/VICE ensured that the source information for Q was made open-access.

To develop Q, the workgroup first recorded the voices of six people who identify as male, female, transgender, or nonbinary to authentically blend a voice that didnot typically fit within the male-female binary. To find this voice, engineers worked on the pitch, tone, and the format filter to blend them to a gender neutral-sounding single voice. Via Copenhagen Pride, the team surveyed more than 4,600 people who were asked torate versions of these human voices that had been woven into a single voice. However, at the end of several sound-engineered iterations and accompanying user feedback, survey respondents reported preferring a modulated single voice that fit within a frequency range that was perceived as most gender-neutral. From this experiment, audio engineers were able to technically define and achieve Q.

Global media outlets covering the research include The New York Times, Wired, and NPR.

Role: Research advisor

Awards:
Museum exhibitions:
  • Beazley Designs of the Year
  • Design Museum (London)
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • "Q, the Genderless Voice, is the official narrator of the new Designs for Different Futures exhibit. The exhibit explores the challenges and opportunities that humans may face in the years and centuries ahead, while raising many questions about what technologies may hold for intimacy, identity, and citizenship."
    (October 22–March 8, 2019).
    Carpenter, J. (November, 2019). Flipping the script: Q and nonbinary voice. "Why is AI a woman?": Design for Different Futures. [Panel]. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, PA.
  • Walker Art Center (Minneapolis)
  • Art Institute of Chicago


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