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‘In disbelief’: OpenAI folds in face of Scarlett Johansson voice allegations

ScarJo is facing off with OpenAI.

ScarJo is facing off with OpenAI. Photo: TND/Getty

Scarlett Johansson may have lent her voice to an AI virtual assistant in the 2013 film Her, but she’s not keen for life to imitate art.

She alleges OpenAI used a voice “eerily” similar to hers anyway.

In a lengthy statement released this week, Johansson detailed her interactions with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who allegedly asked Johansson to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 system in September.

Despite refusing the offer, Johansson said close friends and media alike were fooled by the similarity between her voice and ‘Sky’, one of the voice options offered on OpenAI’s new system upon the demo launch.

The “shocked” actor said the actions of Altman and OpenAI forced her to hire legal counsel, which led to OpenAI “reluctantly” taking down Sky’s voice this week.

Altman denies any similarity between Sky and Johansson’s voices, but OpenAI said it had taken Sky’s voice offline to address questions about “how we chose the voices in ChatGPT”.

The US-based AI research organisation said it had worked to select five voices for ChatGPT 4.0 out of 400 submissions.

OpenAI said Sky’s voice was not an imitation of Johansson’s, but was simply the natural speaking voice of a different actor who was left unnamed to “protect their privacy”.

Although Johansson said she was asked to provide her voice for the second time in September 2023, just days before the ChatGPT 4.0 demo was released, OpenAI said recordings for the voices were conducted during June and July.

“The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers,” Altman said in a statement to The Verge.

“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.”

Despite Altman’s insistence AI was never meant to sound like Johansson, the latter called out Altman for insinuating on social media that she had participated in the program.

Johansson’s statement said the OpenAI CEO claimed he felt her voice would be “comforting” to people when he’d requested her voice for ChatGPT.

“After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer,” Johansson said.

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief … 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.”

Johansson said this tweet by Altman insinuated she was working with OpenAI. Photo: TND/X/@sama

Johansson said her team has asked OpenAI to “detail the exact process” used to create Sky’s 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,” she said.

“I look forward to resolution in the form of transparency and the passage of appropriate legislation to help ensure that individual rights are protected.”

This is not the first time Johansson has stood up against AI; last year, she took legal action against an app that used her likeness in an online advertisement without permission.

The use of AI to replicate the likeness, visual or otherwise, of people has raised alarm for years.

Deepfakes have been labelled especially dangerous due to their potential use for the spread of disinformation or other harmful material such as apparent child pornography.

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