Scarlett Johansson demands answers over "eerily similar" OpenAI voice

San Francisco, California - Movie star Scarlett Johansson said Monday she was "shocked" by an OpenAI synthetic voice that sounds like her, which was released after she declined to work with the ChatGPT-maker on such a project.

Scarlett Johansson is demanding answers after OpenAI released a new artificial intelligence voice that sounds strikingly like her own.
Scarlett Johansson is demanding answers after OpenAI released a new artificial intelligence voice that sounds strikingly like her own.  © ZOULERAH NORDDINE / AFP

The artificial intelligence powerhouse headed by Sam Altman said it was working on temporarily muting the Johannson-sounding voice it calls "Sky."

"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 couldn't tell the difference," Johannson said in a statement.

Johannson said Altman in September offered to hire her to work with OpenAI to create a synthetic voice, saying it might provide people comfort engaging with AI.

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Altman has previously pointed to the Johansson-voiced character in the movie Her – a cautionary tale about the future in which a man falls in love with an AI chatbot – as inspiration for where he would like AI interactions to go.

Johannson said Altman insinuated the similarity in voices was intentional when at one point he fired off a single-word tweet on X: Her.

OpenAI said in a blog post that the "Sky" voice at issue was based on the natural speaking voice of a different professional actor and not meant to sound like Johansson.

"We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity's distinctive voice," OpenAI said in the post. "Sky's voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson."

OpenAI is working on a way to "pause" Sky as it addresses what appears to be confusion about who it sounds like, the company said on X.

"We've heard questions about how we chose the voices in ChatGPT, especially Sky," OpenAI said.

Johansson said she has asked OpenAI for a detailed accounting of how "Sky" was made.

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OpenAI has denied copying Scarlett Johansson's voice for ChatGPT.
OpenAI has denied copying Scarlett Johansson's voice for ChatGPT.  © KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

The company explained that it worked with professional voice actors on synthetic voices it named Breeze, Cove, Ember, Juniper, and Sky.

But Sky became the focus of attention last week when OpenAI released a higher-performing and even more humanlike "GPT-4o" version of the artificial intelligence technology that underpins ChatGPT.

In a demo, the new version of Sky was at times even flirtatious and funny, capable of seamlessly jumping from one topic to the next, unlike most existing chatbots.

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So far in the AI frenzy, most tech giants have been reluctant to overly humanize chatbots.

Microsoft Vice President Yusuf Mehdi told AFP his company, which has a partnership with OpenAI, sought to make sure that AI was not "a he or a she," but rather a "unique entity."

"It should not be human. It shouldn't breathe. You should be able to...understand (it) is AI," he said.

Just days ago, OpenAI said it disbanded a team devoted to mitigating the long-term dangers of artificial intelligence.

OpenAI began dissolving the so-called "superalignment" group weeks ago, integrating members into other projects and research.

Company co-founder Ilya Sutskever and superalignment team co-leader Jan Leike announced their departures from the San Francisco-based firm last week.

Cover photo: ZOULERAH NORDDINE / AFP

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