Scarlett Johansson was ‘shocked, angered’ by ChatGPT voice that sounded like her

May 21, 2024
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Actor Scarlett Johansson said Monday that OpenAI used an “eerily similar” voice to hers for their new ChatGPT 4o chatbot despite having declined the company’s request to provide her voice.

Earlier in the day, OpenAI announced it would no longer be using the voice, but did not indicate why.

“Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 system,” Johansson wrote in a statement, which a representative shared with NBC News. “He told me that he felt that by my voicing the system, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers to feel comfortable with the seismic shift concerning humans and AI. He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people.”

“After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer,” she continued. “Nine months later, my friends, family and the general public all noted how much the newest system named ‘Sky’ sounded like me.”

OpenAI debuted its new ChatGPT 4o last week, touting its ability to hold conversations in voice chats, among other features. The new tech quickly drew comparisons to the kinds of futuristic AI portrayed in movies, offering five voices — including “Sky.”

In Monday’s announcement, OpenAI said that the “Sky” voice was not an “imitation” of Johansson’s voice. The company said it was recorded by a professional actor, along with other voices that are still available. The company said it would not share the actors’ names for privacy reasons. The voice chat feature was promoted during a May 13 product demonstration held by OpenAI, but the feature has been available since September 2023.

Johansson voiced an artificial intelligence chatbot in the 2013 movie “Her,” which OpenAI CEO Sam Altman referenced in relation to the company’s new voice offerings — something Johansson noted in her statement.

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference,” Johansson wrote in the statement. Altman’s announcement of the new product was posted on X on the same day of the product demonstration and is still live. Her statement continued, “Mr. Altman even insinuated that the similarity was intentional, tweeting a single word ‘her’ – a reference to the film in which I voiced a chat system, Samantha, who forms an intimate relationship with a human.”

“Two days before the ChatGPT 4.0 demo was released, Mr. Altman contacted my agent, asking me to reconsider. Before we could connect, the system was out there,” Johansson wrote. “As a result of their actions, I was forced to hire legal counsel, who wrote two letters to Mr. Altman and OpenAI, setting out what they had done and asking them to detail the exact process by which they created the ‘Sky’ voice. Consequently, OpenAI reluctantly agreed to take down the ‘Sky’ voice.”

“In a time when we are all grappling with deepfakes and the protection of our own likeness, our own work, our own identities, I believe these are questions that deserve absolute clarity. I look forward to resolution in the form of transparency and the passage of appropriate legislation to help ensure that individual rights are protected,” she wrote.

In response for a request for comment, Altman said in a written statement sent by a spokesperson that the voice of “Sky” was not meant to sound liked Johansson’s and was chosen before reaching out to her.

“The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers,” he said. “We cast the voice actor behind Sky’s voice before any outreach to Ms. Johansson. Out of respect for Ms. Johansson, we have paused using Sky’s voice in our products. We are sorry to Ms. Johansson that we didn’t communicate better.”

Voice imitation is a relatively new technology that has progressed quickly in recent years, allowing people to use software to imitate celebrities and personalities such as President Joe Biden. The rapid proliferation of the technology has led to concerns around disinformation, such as when one fake Biden voice was used in a robocall attempt to mislead New Hampshire primary voters. Celebrity voices have also been faked to advertise scams on social media. In November, Variety reported that Johansson and her attorney took action against an AI company for using her likeness in an advertisement that featured AI-generated images of the star.

There have been some growing concerns around how OpenAI develops its technology, most notably around what data has been used to train its AI models and about its willingness to consider the risks of AI.

Last week, the company disbanded the team that focused on long-term AI risks, CNBC reported. OpenAI co-founder Ilya Sutskever and researcher Jan Leike also left the company. Leike on Friday wrote that OpenAI’s “safety culture and processes have taken a backseat to shiny products.”





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