Scarlett Johansson asks OpenAI to explain how they created the voice of Sky

According to her, Altman even hinted that the similarity of voices was intentional in his post on the X Network at the time, as he only wrote the word "her"

by Sededin Dedovic
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Scarlett Johansson asks OpenAI to explain how they created the voice of Sky
© Theo Wargo / Getty Images

Actress Scarlett Johansson has accused OpenAI of copying her voice for one of the voice assistants in ChatGPT despite denying the company permission to do so. Her statement came hours after OpenAI announced that the company would no longer use the voice in ChatGPT but did not specify the reason.

"Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to lend my voice to the current ChatGPT 4.0 system. He told me he believed that with my expression, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers feel comfortable amidst the seismic shift involving humans and artificial intelligence.

He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people," Johansson wrote in a statement, as reported by Engadget. The actress added that she declined the offer after "much consideration and for personal reasons," but when OpenAI demonstrated GPT-4o last week, the company's latest large language model, "her friends, family, and the wider public noticed that the latest system, named Sky, sounded like her."

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks during the APEC CEO Summit at Moscone West on November 16, 2023 in San Francisco, California.</p><p>The A
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks during the APEC CEO Summit at Moscone West on November 16, 2023 in San Francisco, California. The A© Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

She claims that even her closest friends couldn't tell the difference.

When Johansson saw OpenAI's latest demo, she said she was "shocked, angry, and incredulous that Altman would use a voice that sounded so eerily similar to hers that even her closest friends and news outlets couldn't distinguish the difference." She also revealed that Altman contacted her agent just two days before the company unveiled GPT-4o and asked her to reconsider, but he introduced the system before she had a chance to respond.

"Sky's voice is not Scarlett Johansson's voice, and it was never intended to resemble hers. We assigned the voice actress before any contact with Johansson. Out of respect for her, we paused the use of Sky's voice in our products.

We apologize for not communicating better," said a representative of OpenAI in a statement attributed to Altman, co-founder and CEO of OpenAI. Although Sky has been one of the voice assistants in ChatGPT since September 2023, GPT-4o, which the company unveiled last week, takes it a step further.

The company said the new model is closer to "natural interaction between humans and computers" and demonstrated its executives engaging in conversations almost indistinguishable from human conversations with the voice assistant in ChatGPT.

This has sparked comparisons to Samantha, the virtual voice assistant portrayed by Johansson in the 2013 film "Her," who has an intimate relationship with a human being. Shortly after the events, Altman tweeted a single word - "her" - an obvious reference to the film.

OpenAI to Pause Sky

On Monday, OpenAI announced that it would pause the use of Sky in ChatGPT and released a lengthy post revealing how the company hired professional voice actors to create their own virtual assistants, denying any similarities to the actress's voice.

"We believe AI voices should not intentionally mimic the distinctive voice of a famous person – the voice that Sky has is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson's but belongs to another professional actress who uses her own voice," wrote OpenAI, adding that each of its performers, whose names it refused to disclose for privacy reasons, was paid "above the highest market rates, and this will continue as long as their voices are used."

Scarlett Johansson attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, Californi
Scarlett Johansson attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, Californi© Amy Sussman / Getty Images

This move, Johansson said in her statement, came only after she hired legal counsel who wrote two letters to Altman and OpenAI seeking explanation.

"At a time when we are all grappling with deepfakes and protecting our own work and identities, I believe these are issues that deserve absolute clarity. I look forward to a transparent resolution and the enactment of appropriate legislation to ensure the protection of individual rights," Johansson wrote.

Intellectual property rights have long been a cornerstone of creative industries, protecting artists, actors, and creators from unauthorized use of their work. However, the emergence of AI technology has complicated these matters, blurring the lines between what constitutes original creation and what constitutes replication or imitation.

In Scarlett Johansson's case, her voice, like her image, is a valuable asset, carefully crafted over years of professional training and experience. To see it potentially replicated without her consent raises serious concerns about the control artists have over their own identities in the digital age.

The resolution of this dispute will likely set important precedents for future cases involving the intersection of AI and celebrity rights. However, AI is a very complex technology and a lot of work will be needed to avoid identity and copyright theft.

Scarlett Johansson
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