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Scarlett Johansson Says OpenAI Ripped Off Her Voice for ChatGPT

May 20, 2024 7:38 PM

Scarlett Johansson Says OpenAI Ripped Off Her Voice for ChatGPT

In a scorching statement, Scarlett Johansson claims that after she turned down an invitation to voice ChatGPT, OpenAI brazenly mimicked her distinctive tones anyway.

Closeup black and white photograph of Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson attends the Asteroid City red carpet during the 76th annual Cannes film festival on May 23, 2023, in France.Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Last week OpenAI revealed a new conversational interface for ChatGPT with an expressive, synthetic voice strikingly similar to that of the AI assistant played by Scarlett Johansson in the sci-fi movie Her—only to suddenly disable the new voice over the weekend.

On Monday, Johansson issued a statement claiming to have forced that reversal, after her lawyers demanded OpenAI clarify how the new voice was created.

Johansson’s statement, relayed to WIRED by her publicist, claims that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman asked her last September to provide ChatGPT’s new voice but that she declined. She describes being astounded to see the company demo a new voice for ChatGPT last week that sounded like her anyway.

“When I heard the release 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,” the statement reads. It notes that Altman appeared to encourage the world to connect the demo with Johansson’s performance by tweeting out “her,” in reference to the movie, on May 13.

Johansson’s statement says her agent was contacted by Altman two days before last week’s demo asking that she reconsider her decision not to work with OpenAI. After seeing the demo, she says she hired legal counsel to write to OpenAI asking for details of how it made the new voice.

The statement claims that this led to OpenAI’s announcement Sunday in a post on X that it had decided to “pause the use of Sky,” the company’s name for the synthetic voice. The company also posted a blog post outlining the process used to create the voice. “Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice,” the post said.

Sky is one of several synthetic voices that OpenAI gave ChatGPT last September, but at last week’s event it displayed a much more lifelike intonation with emotional cues. The demo saw a version of ChatGPT powered by a new AI model called GPT-4o appear to flirt with an OpenAI engineer in a way that many viewers found reminiscent of Johansson’s performance in Her.

“The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson's, and it was never intended to resemble hers,” Sam Altman said in a statement provided by OpenAI. He claimed the voice actor behind Sky's voice was hired before the company contact Johannsson. “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.”

The conflict with Johansson adds to OpenAI’s existing battles with artists, writers, and other creatives. The company is already defending a number of lawsuits alleging it inappropriately used copyrighted content to train its algorithms, including suits from The New York Times and authors including George R.R. Martin.

Generative AI has made it much easier to create realistic synthetic voices, creating new opportunities and threats. In January, voters in New Hampshire were bombarded with robocalls featuring a deepfaked voice message from Joe Biden. In March, OpenAI said that it had developed a technology that could clone someone’s voice from a 15-second clip, but the company said it would not release the technology because of how it might be misused.

Updated 5-20-2024, 9 pm EDT: This article has been updated with comment from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

Will Knight is a senior writer for WIRED, covering artificial intelligence. He writes the Fast Forward newsletter that explores how advances in AI and other emerging technology are set to change our lives—sign up here. He was previously a senior editor at MIT Technology Review, where he wrote about fundamental… Read more
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