OpenAI Pulls ChatGPT-4 Voice After Actress Scarlett Johansson Speaks Out

image of scarlett johansson next to a chatgpt and openai logo on a cellphone with a wavy pink and orange design in the background
Scarlett Johansson OpenAI ChatGPT Remix by Caterina Rose Cox Variety/YouTube Ardely/Shutterstock Amarylle/Shutterstock rafapress/Shutterstock

In a sinister case of art imitating life, Scarlett Johansson is threatening legal action against Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI. The actress is alleging that the business used her likeness for a Chat-GPT voice without permission. Johansson previously played the voice of an AI assistant in the 2013 sci-fi thriller ‘Her.’

In a May 20 statement to NPR, she claims that Altman asked her to be the voice of the new Chat-GPT back in September 2023. 

“He told me that he felt that by 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 Al. He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people,” she said.

“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.” 

Shortly before releasing the demo, Johansson claims that Altman tried to get in touch with her again — but the demo was “out there” before the actress had a chance to respond. 

“When I heard the released demo,” she added, “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.”

Did OpenAI use Scarlett Johansson?

As of May 20, OpenAI’s ‘Sky’ voice has been pulled. But CEO Altman is denying Johansson was the inspiration for the GPT-4 voice.

“The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers,” Altman said in a statement (via USA Today). “We cast the voice actor behind Sky’s voice before any outreach to Ms. Johansson. 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.”

Shortly before this, on May 19, OpenAI also made a blog post detailing how they narrowed down over 400 voice actor submissions before selecting the final five voices used to create Sky.

Why is this important for creators?

In this era of AI, nobody is safe. Even huge stars like Taylor Swift and Scarlett Johansson find that their own likeness is in danger. Clearly, some kind of regulation is needed. And by speaking out so publicly about this, could ScarJo be the one to put AI in its place? 

Celebrities have a lot of influence, both culturally and financially, so this situation could lead to guardrails against AI. In turn, it could benefit smaller creators. Perhaps those who also face having their work or likeness used for training or whole AI projects without their consent. 

Or maybe we’re being a little too optimistic. Maybe it will only be the rich and famous who can afford protections against AI. Nonetheless, it’s clear that AI in the creator economy is at a crossroads. Perhaps Scarlett Johansson is the one we need to get to the other side.

“In a time when we are all grappling with deepfakes and the protection of our own likeness, our own work, our own identities,” Johansson said in her statement. “I believe these are questions that deserve absolute clarity.”

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