Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Scarlett Johansson Says OpenAI Ripped Off Her Voice for ChatGPT

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.

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.

When asked why OpenAI had decided to disable Sky, Niko Felix, an OpenAI spokesperson, referred WIRED to a blog post also from Sunday outlining the process the company went through to choose its 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 says.

“For now, we are pausing the use of Sky’s voice while we address some questions, but we hope to bring it back soon,” Felix said.

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.

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