Scarlett Johansson threatens to sue OpenAI over Chatbot voice that sounds ‘eerily similar’ to hers 

National News

By Jana J. Pruet 
Contributing Writer 

OpenAI said it plans to discontinue using one of its ChatGPT voices after Scarlett Johansson alleged it sounded “eerily similar” to her own. 

On Monday, the company said it is “working to pause” the voice known as Sky, one of five voice users can speak with when using ChapGPT. 

“We’ve heard questions about how we chose the voices in ChatGPT, especially Sky,” OpenAI wrote on X. “We are working to pause the use of Sky while we address them.” 

Johansson, who voiced a fictional AI assistant in the 2013 film “Her,” was among those raising questions about how it selects its lifelike audio options on its flagship artificial intelligence chatbot. 

The 39-year-old actress issued a statement claiming she had been approached last year by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who asked if she would like to lend her voice to the ChatGPT. 

“Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 system,” she said in a statement provided by her publicist, Marcel Pariseau. “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.” 

Johansson said after considering the offer, she decided for “personal reasons” to decline. 

Nine months later, she said people began pointing out how much the system named “Sky” sounded like her.  

“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 said. “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.” 

She also alleges that just days before the ChatGPT 4.0 demo was released, Altman reached out to her agent, asking if she would reconsider his offer. 

“Before we could connect, the system was out there,” Johansson continued. 

Johansson said because of OpenAI’s actions, she was “forced” to hire an attorney who wrote two letters to Altman and his company, citing the similarity of her voice and “Sky.” They asked the company to provide in detail the process it used to create the “Sky” voice. 

At that point, 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,” Johansson 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.” 

OpenAI tried to debunk the theory regarding Johansson’s voice in a blog post that accompanied its earlier announcement on X.   

“We believe AI voice should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice — Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johanson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice,” the company wrote in a blog post dated May 19.  

But OpenAI said it could not reveal the name of the voice talent due to privacy issues. The company did not immediately respond to a request for more information. 

OpenAI said in a statement to The Associated Press that it had cast the voice of “Sky” “before any outreach” to Johansson.  

“The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers,” Altman said. “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 San Francisco-based company launched its voice capabilities for ChatGPT in September 2023. The rollout, which included five different voices, allowed users to engage in back-and-forth conversation with the AI assistant. 

Previously, “Voice Mode” was only available to paid subscribers, but in November, the company announced it would become a free feature for mobile app users. 

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, urged the House on Tuesday to consider his legislation following Johansson’s questions about the voice used by OpenAI. 

The AI Foundational Model Transparency Act would establish “transparency standards for information that high-impact foundation models must provide to the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] and the public, including how those AI models are trained and information about the source of data used.” 

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