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Scarlett Johansson accuses OpenAI of using her voice for ChatGPT after she refused

Sept. 13, 2023; Washington, D.C., USA; Sam Altman, OpenAI - CEO, arrives before the start of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senators Rounds, Heinrich And Young hosting the Inaugural Artificial Intelligence Insight Forum With Key AI Stakeholders To Help Forge Bipartisan Consensus On Legislation To Capitalize On This Transformative Technology. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Feb 9, 2020; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Scarlett Johansson arrives at the 92nd Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Dan MacMedan-USA TODAY
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and actress Scarlett Johansson Photo: Jack Gruber, Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY NETWORK via IMAGN

Sam Altman, the gay CEO of the massively influential artificial intelligence (AI) company OpenAI, has been accused of using Scarlett Johansson’s voice for his company’s new conversational interface even though she had earlier refused to do so.

In a statement issued Monday, Johansson said Altman had offered to hire her to voice the ChatGPT 4.0 “chatbot” in September 2023, but she declined. Altman reportedly asked Johansson’s agent if the actress would reconsider just two days before the new interface’s public demonstration on May 13.

“Before we could connect, the system was out there,” Johansson wrote. “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 May 13 demo showcased the ability of ChatGPT’s new 4.0 conversational interface to respond to spoken commands, offer quick-witted replies, translate spoken languages, recall past discussions, and also perceive and imitate human emotions using different vocal tones.

Though the chatbot’s voice was called “Sky” during the demo, on the same day, Altman seemingly acknowledged the similarity between Sky’s and Johansson’s voices by writing the word “her” in a post on his X account. The post was widely understood as a reference to the 2013 science fiction film, Her, in which Johansson played the role of a conversational AI entity.

Upon hearing Sky’s voice, Johansson said she “was forced to hire legal counsel” who wrote two letters to Altman and OpenAI. The letters noted the aforementioned details above and asked the company to detail exactly how they created Sky’s voice. Johansson said that OpenAI only “reluctantly agreed” to stop using the Sky voice after her lawyers contacted the company.

“Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson,” OpenAI wrote in a May 19 blog post, stating that the voice belonged to a “different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice” after auditions with over 400 other actors.

“We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice,” the blog post added.

Nevertheless, Johansson wrote in her May 20 statement, “In a time when we are all grappling with deepfakes and the protection of our own likenesses, our own work, our own identities, I believe these are questions that deserve absolute clarity. I look forward to resolution in the form of transparency and the passage of appropriate legislation to help ensure that individual rights are protected.”

Altman himself has noted that AI technology can be used to create realistic digital “deepfake” images and audio that look and sound like other humans without the human’s consent. Former President Donald Trump has already published a deepfake of gay news anchor Anderson Cooper to boost his 2024 presidential campaign.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) unveiled a guidance advising a congressional committee to study AI’s potential threats. However, civil rights, technology, and labor advocates criticized the guidance, saying that more should be done to promptly address the incoming threats of the rapidly developing technology, The Hill reported.

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