Could We Ever Have an iPhone With Scarlett Johansson’s Voice?

By  · Published on January 5th, 2014

Spike Jonze’s Her hasn’t even hit wide release yet, but everyone has been talking about its futurist concepts for months. And not only talking about them, but desiring them. It used to be that we had to dream about flying cars and hoverboards as being decades away, but in the past ten years smart science fiction has given us more plausible tech and production design. Minority Report’s promise of touch screens and personalized ads came rather quickly, and now our impatient culture will demand the stuff seen in Her immediately. We’ve already got some fashions inspired by the film, but how about the artificial intelligence? And more importantly, the artificial intelligence boyfriends and girlfriends?

Well, that may not be right around the corner. It might not even be possible at all, at least not to the degree it’s seen in Her (I’m skeptical about full AI ever existing). But this generation tends to be satisfied with replicas if not the real thing. We’re not only fine with fake self-lacing Nikes like those seen in Back to the Future Part II, but we’ll even pay thousands of dollars for them. Same goes for light-up flux capacitor models that don’t really transport us back in time. So why not a special smartphone that features Scarlett Johansson’s voice to make us feel like the “Samantha” OS from Her is real? After all, there’s been a HAL 9000 theme available for the iPhone, although it doesn’t really replace the Siri voice or alter the program. It’s only a matter of time before some genius figures out how to do something similar with Johansson’s speech, probably even a mix of Her dialogue and lines from her other movies, for those who want to jailbreak their phones.

I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point Apple does add some more lifelike voices for their devices and computers. Currently we can have Siri in female or male voice and in any number of languages and accents. Meanwhile, Mac computers offer various voice types for the text-to-speech function, and interestingly enough there’s a downloadable “American female” option named “Samantha,” which is the closest to the Siri voice on the iPhone (if this is just a coincidence and not Jonze’s intent to make even more blatant reference to Siri without using that more famous name, then that’s a pretty crazy accident). Navigation system company TomTom has been able to create full GPS speech tracks with the voices of Darth Vader, KITT, Bert and Ernie and even real people like Kim Cattrall and Stephen Fry (watch the hilarious Vader ad here), so what’s stopping Apple or any other smartphone manufacturer from doing something similar with a personal assistant app?

The thing is, Her might have ruined the idea for any kind of official release. Just think of what it would mean if people could switch the Siri voice to that of Johansson? Think of why they’d want to make the switch. In the movie, “Samantha” is really just a sexual object for Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) – a point I think is fair to make but not necessarily as a criticism against the movie – so it’d be kind of like getting a sex doll with a celebrity’s face on it (surprisingly, I can’t find one of ScarJo, at least not on any site I feel is safe). The same could be true now of any other celebrity or movie character who would take the gig. Not that I believe that nobody is getting off to Siri, and not just since Her arrived, nor does it matter, I suppose, if it’s a phone voice or just someone listening to clips on their phone.

Meanwhile, just pondering the thought is sure to make the real Siri jealous – or at least pretend jealous. As pointed out earlier today on BuzzFeed, if you ask your iPhone assistant about Her or “Samantha” she replies with one of a few phrases referencing the movie. It’s almost as fun as how she gets upset when you bring up HAL.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.