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Star Trek’s First Lady Majel Barrett’s Voice Inspired Alexa And Other Virtual Assistants

Gene Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett was such an integral part of the Star Trek franchise that she’s often referred to as the franchise’s First Lady. Whether it was in her roles as Nurse Chapel, Number One, Lwaxana Troi (one of the many great characters of The Next Generation and other shows), or the voice of Federation starships and computers, her imprint is all over the franchise. What some might not know is that her influence extends far beyond that, as Barrett’s voice work in Trek ultimately inspired many popular virtual assistants like Alexa that we use today. 

I recently spoke to Rod Roddenberry, the son of the late Majel Barett and Gene Roddenberry, about his mother’s legacy. I mentioned the factoid about creators at Google and Amazon crediting their ideas for virtual assistants to her, and Roddenberry filled in some blanks for me with the revelation that there once was an idea for her to be the actual voice of some of those products prior to her death in 2008: 

Those companies actually reached out to her. Apple, I believe, and I know Google did before she passed. Everyone had the same idea, which is still a great idea, ‘We should have Majel Roddenberry, the voice of the Star Trek computer, be the voice of all our automated machinery out there.'

Out of all the roles Majel Barrett played for Star Trek, there’s an argument to be made that the voice of ships and computers might be her biggest. Virtual assistants are a part of everyday life at this point and a huge example of science-fiction pop culture influencing our lives today. 

Unfortunately, Majel Barrett’s voice isn’t currently used on every Google assistant or iPhone today, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Rod Roddenberry shared his eventual vision for hearing his mother’s voice on modern technology and how previous attempts to do so fell through. 

I think she should still be that today. In fact, before she passed away, I told her this, and we did a voice recording session, and we attempted – not being professionals – but we attempted at the time to phonetically get every sound that we could from her as well as a number of high-resolution sayings from Star Trek. We have a number of wav files of this stuff. We, at one point, did talk to Google about it, but unfortunately, it didn’t go anywhere at the time because our recording – well, it wasn’t because our recording was incomplete, it was for other reasons – but our recording was a bit incomplete, and we’re talking probably fifteen years ago. I think there’s synthetic audio equipment now that can probably fill in those gaps. I think it would be the coolest thing ever to actually have that happen.

It does definitely seem like the technology is available to fill in any missing gaps in Majel Barrett’s previously recorded speech. In an age where we can de-age actors (which is a controversial topic for some actors) and even create new audio from them using past footage, it’s definitely feasible to see Rod Roddenberry’s vision, and perhaps the vision of Star Trek fans, come true. 

To learn there’s a library of recorded sounds for Majel Barrett’s voice is exciting, as it opens the door for future Star Trek creators to utilize that voice for their works. I mentioned how cool the possibility is to potentially hear her voice again as a computer, and he completely agreed.

Absolutely. I mean, I would love nothing more than for her role to be reprised at the very least of the voice of the computer. Obviously, with those sound files, I think we need to locate that technology because I’ve talked to people, and they say it’s out there, and I’m sure it is on some level, I just don’t know the fidelity, the quality, the gaps that are missing if it could be put in. Also, in the original series, I remember the voice of the computer being somewhat robotic. It was her voice, but it was more robotic, whereas, The Next Generation is was more humanoid. So, whichever one you choose to do, obviously, the robotic one might be easier to fill the original series gap with that voice using that technology.

Majel Barrett’s influence in Star Trek is prevalent in the old works, so it’d be cool to see her presence felt in the new works as well. Time will tell if that happens (though this offer was on the table back when Star Trek: Discovery was first announced), but hopefully, the world at large is able to find a way to continue to honor and recognize Barrett’s legacy. 

Majel Barrett’s various works in Star Trek can be found in many of the classic franchise shows on Paramount+ (opens in new tab), all of which are available to stream with a Paramount+ subscription. Now is also a great time to subscribe in general, as there are plenty of new Star Trek shows on the way in 2022

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.