Scarlett Johansson ‘Shocked And Angered’, Says OpenAI Ripped Off Her Voice For ChatGPT

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Scarlett Johansson has released a statement following OpenAI’s removal of a controversial voice option that sounds eerily similar to the Hollywood star.

ChatGPT released its voice chat feature in September 2023. Since then, users have had the option to pick from five voices: Ember, Cove, Juniper, Breeze, and Sky. The latter has drawn comparisons to the AI voice assistant in the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her, voiced by Johansson.

On Monday (May 20) users began noticing the Sky voice option was no longer available on the ChatGPT app. People flooded social media with speculation it was due to the recent OpenAI demo for GPT-4o, which featured an extra-flirty Sky, and triggered a flood of memes. Johansson’s husband even mocked it on Saturday Night Live.

Now, Johansson has addressed the situation, claiming she received an offer from Sam Altman to voice GPT-4 in September 2023 — an offer she declined. 

“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,” Johansson wrote in a statement. “He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people.

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

Johansson said when she heard the 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. 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,” Johansson said. “Before we could connect, the system was out there.”

Johansson says she was forced to hire legal counsel as a result of OpenAI’s actions. The star says her legal team “wrote two letters to Mr. Altman and OpenAl, setting out what they had done and asking them to detail the exact process by which they created the ‘Sky’ voice. Consequently, OpenAl 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,” 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.”

OpenAI had previously denied allegations that the voice of Sky was created with the intention of imitating Johansson. It denied the claim again last night in its statement addressing the removal of the ‘Sky’ voice option.

“We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice — Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice,” it said. “To protect their privacy, we cannot share the names of our voice talents.”

The company says it worked with “industry-leading casting and directing professionals to narrow down over 400 submissions before selecting the 5 voices”. The voice of Sky was one of five actors who flew to San Francisco “for recording sessions and in-person meetings with the OpenAI product and research teams”.

“Looking ahead, you can expect even more options as we plan to introduce additional voices in ChatGPT to better match the diverse interests and preferences of users,” OpenAI said.

Main image: Getty