We’re surrounded by a bunch of different devices that yack at us, and it turns out every last one of them began learning how to speak from a song about a bicycle.

Maybe we’re too sensitive to sound, but the voices are everywhere now. GPS chirps at us in cars. Siri tells us the weather forecast. Digital voices talk to us in subways, on buses, and at crosswalks. This is all new. Even a few years ago, computer voices sounded way less human. It’s taken half a century to get to this point, and it all started with a 19th century song: “Daisy Bell.”

Here’s how the story goes. Musician Frank Dean, also known as Harry Dacre, came to the US from England at the end of the 19th century. When he entered the US, he was charged an import tax on his bicycle. His fellow song-writer joked that he was lucky he didn’t have “a bicycle built for two,” otherwise he might have been charged double. Dean liked the phrase so much he ended up putting it into a piece of music, ”Daisy Bell.” Released in 1892, the song was a hit. The little ditty was so successful it got lodged into popular culture, and eventually became the first song ever sung by a computer.

It was 1961. Programmers at IBM had been working to create code that would make a computer talk in a way that was recognizably human. They were working with the IBM 704. Only about 140 of these machines existed at the time. They were made of big vacuum tubes and were one of the few computers around that could handle high math. Programmers connected the computer to a vocoder, an audio synthesizing machine that later became a big staple of electronic music. When the team of programmers finally succeeded in creating a recognizable voice, they chose the song “Daisy Bell” as one of these few samples to showcase their achievement. But this is not why most of us know the song.

A few years after it was sung by the IBM 704, “Daisy Bell” was performed by another machine, HAL, the fictional computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This wasn’t a coincidence. Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the book the movie is based on, had actually heard the IBM computer singing the song. He was visiting a friend who worked at Bell Labs and heard a demonstration of “Daisy Bell.” In Stanley Kubrick’s film version HAL creepily sings about the bicycle made for two as the computer is slowly being deactivated.

55 years have passed since that IBM 704 computer first imitated a human voice, but people are still debating what exactly a computer should sound like. If it’s too real, it can be disturbing. See the uncanny valley for details. But if it sounds like some parts of this Kraftwerk album–the first commercially successful album to use computerized voices–well, that just seems too digitized to take seriously. Even after all these years, we still haven’t perfected a computerized voice that we truly feel comfortable with hearing talk, let alone singing a pop ditty about a bicycle built for two.