Machine Monotone

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"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

Machines that speak have been a common element in Speculative Fiction almost since the beginning of the genre. Usually, such voices have been portrayed as either an electronic monotone, or as an endlessly calm human voice that, while certainly warmer than the electronic buzz of the synthesizer, is unsettling to listen to because of a lack of basic emotional content. This is because, for the most part, machines are incapable of actually feeling emotions.

When delivered in a flat monotone voice (that is usually free of contractions or slang), even Spock Speak can take on creepy undertones.

This is especially evident when an artificial intelligence goes nuts. Despite going crazy and deciding to to Kill All Humans or simply to take over and rule us for our own good, all the threats and casually vicious comments the machine makes are made in the same level, calm mode of talking, making them that much more creepy.

A subtrope of Creepy Monotone. Also a justification if the voice comes off as creepy.

This can be an aspect of the Uncanny Valley.

Compare Synthetic Voice Actor. Contrast Electronic Speech Impediment, where the lack of a Machine Monotone is a cause for concern.

Examples of Machine Monotone include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Father Tres Equis from Trinity Blood, except he's a cold killer android. He's still the kind of guy who proposes killing a small child for simplicity's sake, and lacks emotions of any kind. Probably one of the only example who actually acts as unemotional as a walking computer would.
    • A few minor events suggest that Tres does some of this intentionally, he's certainly not as unemotional as people think.
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: Yuki Nagato.
  • Aizen's English voice from Bleach, his VA used HAL as an a inspiration.
  • The Cosmic Horror of Digimon Tamers, the D-Reaper, also uses a Creepy Monotone (this time because it is evil/a computer program). This is made twelve times creepier because the Creepy Monotone it uses is the voice of Juri, one of the main characters, whom it had absorbed early on.
  • Project 2501 "the Puppetmaster" from Ghost in the Shell speaks in monotone constantly, and for added dissonance, has a male voice in a female body, and does not move the mouth.
  • Chachamaru in Mahou Sensei Negima (played by Akeno Watanabe, who also plays Robin Sena). This trait was carried over into the dub by giving her a British accent, and casting Caitlin Glass to play her.
  • The gynoid Dorothy from The Big O speaks in a level electronic grate - although peculiarly, instead of making her seem detached or dispassionate, it transforms her into a snickeringly incisive Deadpan Snarker.
    • The hero Roger has just literally kicked her into the middle of a crossfire - she emerges with her shell sootied, her clothes tattered, and her frazzled hair sticking out every which way. Her comment? "You're a louse, Roger Smith".


Film[edit | hide]

  • HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey, showcases his monstrous inhumanity and insanity by killing his crew and locking out Dave Bowman, all in the same calm and polite monotone.
    • He's supposed to be sympathetic, though - his condition is compared to schizophrenia, rather than sociopathy, and the book implies that his murderous actions may have been entirely unconscious, since he's programmed to protect the crew. Two conflicting sets of orders simply drive him bonkers.
      • Another interpretation; HAL has emotions (pride of achievement, embarrassment, fear of disconnection/failure), but they are not recognized by the human crew.
  • The original model Terminator always spoke like this, even when mimicking someone else?s voice.
    • In the first sequel, it is revealed that the longer he spends in contact with humans, the more human he will come to act. But he still pretty much speaks in a flat monotone. The T-1000, on the other hand, is shown to be able to mimic vocal inflection? it just doesn't do it unless it's necessary.
  • The agents from The Matrix all talk like this, even while in the midst of a gunfight.
    • Naturally, you could argue that Agent Smith is a subversion, since he is the creepiest when he instantly changes his voice from barely controlled anger to Creepy Monotone, Mr Anderson.
    • Smith's effectiveness in juggling his monotone and emotional voices comes from the fact that for an agent program such as himself, the permanent monotone is how he is supposed to sound. When he begins to sound emotional, it's an indication that something is very wrong with his programing.
  • The Ilia-probe from Star Trek: The Motion Picture spoke like this.
    • Of course, given the level of Persis Khambatta's acting skills, this may be a case of fiction imitating life.
  • VIKI from I Robot is also another good example.
    • This is in contrast to Sonny's speech, which is between this and a genuine emotional voice.
  • ARIA in Eagle Eye, probably the best thing in all the movie.
    • It had to be. She is dubbed by Julianne Moore!
  • EDI, the rogue plane of Stealth, is particularly cruel when says "Goodbye." to Jamie Foxx, one second before jamming him and his plane against a cliff.
    • Actually, Purcell's death is his own fault. He fires a missile that EDI dodges, causing an explosion that blocks Purcell's view for a split second. EDI manages to avoid slamming into the side of the canyon, but not Purcell. In fact, had the missile hit EDI, Purcell would've probably still have died. It was his overconfidence and belief in man's superiority over machine.
    • That, and he decided to fly through the canyon to begin with, as opposed to just flying above it.
  • The titular Master Computer from the 1970s film Colossus the Forbin Project:
  • The WOPR supercomputer ("Joshua") from WarGames.

"Shall we play a game?"

  • GERTY from Moon isn't monotone, but speaks in a rigidly pleasant and soothing tone.


Literature[edit | hide]

"HATE. LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I'VE COME TO HATE YOU SINCE I BEGAN TO LIVE. THERE ARE 387.44 MILLION MILES OF PRINTED CIRCUITS IN WAFER THIN LAYERS THAT FILL MY COMPLEX. IF THE WORD HATE WAS ENGRAVED ON EACH NANOANGSTROM OF THOSE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF MILES IT WOULD NOT EQUAL ONE ONE-BILLIONTH OF THE HATE I FEEL FOR HUMANS AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT FOR YOU. HATE. HATE."

  • The Toralii in Lacuna are physically unable to speak English and vice versa, so when they want to talk to the Humans they use a translator program that sounds like this.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The robots from Doctor Who episode "Robots of Death". More of than than not, all the robots and computers tend to do this.
    • The Cybermen speak in a constant and unchanging monotone. And that's the least freaky thing about them.
      • Not in their first appearances they didn't.
    • Subverted with Daleks. There are some instances where they talk in a rather monotone voice, but most of the time they simply shout in xenophobic rage.
  • In Gene Roddenberry's failed pilot Questor, the titular android (played by the always excellent Robert Foxworth) spoke like this.
  • Cameron, from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, uses a Machine Monotone in general. The absence of the Machine Monotone we're used to is what made the scene where she recites, not only word for word but inflection for inflection, a "classmate's" emotional bathroom rant for the principal creepy.
    • Similarly, in the second season premiere, the steady shift from Cameron's Creepy Monotone to her desperate, terrified pleas to John to a screaming declaration that she loves him while he's trying to take out her chip makes for a chillingly awesome scene.
    • And in the episode "Allison from Palmdale", the use of the Creepy Monotone and its absence makes an already chilling episode that much creepier.
  • The Bionic Woman (1970s) episode "Doomsday is Tomorrow". The HAL 9000 ALEX 7000 computer that's trying to kill Jaime has a voice like this.
  • The androids in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Mudd's Planet" all spoke in a constant monotone.
    • Not to mention the main computer of Enterprise.
      • Except the one episode, when it gets reprogrammed with a husky female voice.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has had at least two monotone androids:
    • The first was the android "Ted". He keeps it up even with half his face missing during his fight with Buffy.
    • The other was April, an android created by Warren Meers in a fifth-season episode. Xander and Anya even remark that her strangely even and polite monotone, while odd, is a turn on to some guys. Considering her original purpose in being built it was probably intentional.
    • The Buffybot has an even "Creepy Perkiness" manner of speaking.
  • Although they don't exactly sound like it, the Borg Collective in Star Trek: The Next Generation technically speaks in a monotone, albeit a loud, reverberating one. Certainly, their insistence that everything you throw at them is "irrelevant" fits this trope to a T - and they have the ability to back it up. Locutus' speech patterns sound closer to a traditional Creepy Monotone, but he slipped some inflection in there amid the creepy disjointedness. The Borg Queen pretty much threw the whole idea out the window.
    • Locutus (a hybrid of types 2 and 3) was specifically intended by the Borg to facilitate "relations" between themselves and the bothersome humans who kept resisting. His inflected speech and referring to Riker as "number one" were poor attempts to put the humans at ease, most likely. Of course, this was even more horrible than if he'd spoken like the other brain-dead, soulless drones.
  • Vicki on Small Wonder is a comedic example, though she also did natural intonations from time to time.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • The Paranoia rulebook advises the GM to use such a voice for The Computer (among a few other creepy options). Most of the time, The Computer is very polite - even when he's ordering a Troubleshooter to visit the nearest suicide booth or charge the Mutant Commie Traitor barricade armed only with a can of Bouncy Bubble Beverage.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • GLaDOS in Portal is a perfect example. "We hope your brief de-ten-tion in the Re-lax-a-tion Vault has been a plea-sant one." Though in the case of GLaDOS, the even worse problems start when the monotone breaks. Then she starts giggling.
    • The shit really hits the fan when the monotone starts up again.

"Good news. I figured out what that thing you just incinerated did. It was a morality core they installed after I flooded the Enrichment Center with a deadly neurotoxin to make me stop flooding the Enrichment Center with a deadly neurotoxin. So get comfortable while I warm up the neurotoxin emitters..."

      • This is all the more unnerving as her previously clinical monotone shifts to a more organic (some might even say sultry) monotone.
    • GLaDOS isn't monotonous for much of the time. Her pitch changes regularly, almost every syllable in fact. What makes her sound disturbing is that every syllable is spoken inhumanly flat and detached, and they do not flow into one another.
      • This is because her speech patterns were done by running the lines through Text To Speech software, then having the voice actress model her delivery on that (with a dash of emotion for flavor)
    • Not only that, but her voice changes comparing to what's happening to her. In the beginning she sounds like a hyperadvanced Microsoft Sam, then when you escape her deathtrap her voice, and reasoning, becomes more disjointed, and when you destroy her morality core her voice becomes less Microsoft Sam-ish, but more smooth and... one might even say sexy, were it not that she hates your guts and wants to murder you real bad.
  • The Combine Overwatch from Half-Life 2 is another example; "she" may be an AI, although it is more likely she is just the alien equivalent of a tech support answering machine.
    • Who ends up sounding more like GLaDOS for HL2 Episode Two.
      • Because it's the same voice actress.
    • Doubly creepy because the Overwatch Dispatcher refers to Overwatch assets and objectives with mostly medically-inspired jargon: turrets are "sterilizers", soldiers are "protection teams", and the order to isolate and kill intruders is "Clamp. Expunge. Sterilize."
  • System Shock completely averts the trope with SHODAN, who is scarily passionate for an AI at times, especially when something doesn't work out like it should—or when it does.
    • XERXES in part 2 plays it straight, however. Turns into Creepy Monotone once he starts spouting stuff like "Glory to the flesh. Glory to the Many."
  • Deus Ex uses this trope to its full extent, partly because it used so many famous examples as inspiration, such as SHODAN, HAL, Agent Smith and Project 2501.

Icarus: (calmly) Your systems were very cooperative. Upload complete.

    • Daedalus speaks in a monotone because he uses a voice-filter to avoid anyone detecting that he is, in fact, an AI and not just a rather well written interactive operating system. Icarus doesn't speak in a monotone, but every single sentence is pure hate run through a voice synthesizer, and includes such gems as the above while presumably installing a rootkit your brain. Helios uses the the more HAL-esque flat voice, coupled with irregular voice patterns.
  • KOS-MOS in Xenosaga speaks monotone, although her evil counterpart TELOS speaks normally in Xenosaga III
  • Halo: "This is UNSC AI Serial Number CTN-4169. I am a monument to all your sins."
  • HK-50/47 from both Knights of the Old Republic games. "Mocking Query: Coorta? Coorta? Are you dead yet?"
    • Actually, only the prefixes seemed to be delivered in monotone. The rest was no different from any other speaking droid in Star Wars, especially HK-47's clearly audible annoyance at not being allowed to shoot everything in sight and having to use that disgusting word "master".
  • Sovereign from Mass Effect.
    • Arguable. Sovereign isn't exactly monotonous, and at times approaches Large Ham levels of emotion. On the other hand, Legion in Mass Effect 2 is a perfect example of the trope.
    • Oh, Sovereign had a monotone alright, it just wasn't a "flat" monotone like all of the examples on this page. His voice seemed to be stuck permanently in "menacing" mode.
  • BlazBlue's Robot Girl Nu-13 speaks in a creepy monotone, except around Ragna. And in Noel's ending Noel loses her identity, and begins speaking in the same monotone.
  • The voice on the intercom in the third Penumbra sounds like this. At first, it seems like a typical automated announcement device, but it turns out to have an awareness and personality. However, the usual characterization is subverted—it's not evil, and judging by its words it can feel horror and loneliness.
  • Megaman Juno in Mega Man Legends speaks in a very polite, almost whispering voice about wiping out an entire civilization with a satellite strike. It's also worth noting that he initiates these cataclysmic events with a warm and friendly smile on his face.
  • The arcade game Berzerk may be the Ur Example in video games.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, findings voids in the Animus' software will drop you into a set of puzzles narrated by an emotionless female voice...which becomes extra creepy when the voice begins to speak as though it's lost and alone, wandering through endless darkness. This is because Subject 16 can only speak in a machine voice once he's uploaded himself into the Animus (until he loads his real one).
  • Homeworld and the Fleet Control. Even when their entire homeworld is annihilated, the half-human half-machine Fleet Control still maintains her composed speech.


Webcomics[edit | hide]


Web Original[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Auto the autopilot from WALL-E, itself a lampshade of HAL-9000.
  • Parodied in Futurama where a HAL 9000-like spaceship talks like HAL at first until they change the voice to a cheerful girl's voice. It's still creepy when he/she/it becomes obsessed with Bender.
    • Another episode features a rather fearsome robot nanny that shouts in a seemingly angry monotone, "Sleep, little dumpling! I have replaced your mother!" Leela says, "Aww!"
  • Series: The Transformers. Example: Soundwave. Behavior: Always uses monotone. HAL 9000 voice synthesizer: Comparatively flexible. Outcome: Enduring fame and popularity.
    • Soundwave of Transformers Cybertron rocks the monotone too, but he remixes it with som phat Jive Turkey. Narm to your mother.
      • It is illogical to ignore Soundwave of Animated. He speaks in complete sentences. This differentiates him from the original. His inflection remains flat and heavily synthesized. His sentences are clipped and precise. His voice remains a tinny monotone under all circumstances. He is Soundwave.
    • There's also Animated Perceptor, who according to Word of God supposedly removed his personality to have more room for information storage. And he's one of the good guys. In fact, his synthesized voice is basically the same as Stephen Hawking.
  • The DCAU version of Brainiac, being an AI, is portrayed quite like HAL.
    • Voiced by Corey Burton, who also voices both versions of Shockwave.
      • The Transformers examples are interesting, because most Transformers talk normally, with a "slightly bad phone connection" level of Voice of the Legion to remind you they're robots. Just about every idea of robot intelligence/personality is used, from "guy who happens to be metal," which is the norm, to "monotone-speaking and Vulcan-esque," to the Oracle from Beast Machines (which seems to be in the "too far beyond you for you to understand" camp.)
  • The computer from The Brave Little Toaster.
  • Ultron from Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes does this. As arrogant and psychotic as a machine he can get, his voice never really changes.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Watson, IBM's Jeopardy playing computer, pretty much sounded like this.
  • Who could forget Microsoft Sam?
  • Stephen Hawking. His is an interesting case, in that the synthesiser he uses is over thirty years old and significantly out of date, yet he continues to use it because the synthesiser's monotone is so universally associated with him and is, in effect, his actual voice as far as most everyone is concerned.
  • The Anonymous group use voice synthesizers to hide their identities.