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Scarlett Johansson hired lawyers to push back on ‘eerily similar’ OpenAI voice

Bloomberg • 3 min read
Scarlett Johansson hired lawyers to push back on ‘eerily similar’ OpenAI voice
Johansson, famous for roles such as the Marvel superhero Black Widow, played an AI virtual assistant in the 2013 film Her. Photo: Bloomberg
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Actress Scarlett Johansson said that she was “forced to hire legal counsel” to demand the removal of an artificial intelligence voice for OpenAI’s chatbot that sounded too much like her. 

In a statement on May 20, the actress said she received an offer from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman in September 2023 about voicing an audio feature for the company’s popular ChatGPT chatbot. She said she decided not to participate in the project “after much consideration and for personal reasons”.

In Altman’s offer, “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,” she said.

Last week, OpenAI released new audio tools and staged demonstrations that included a voice called Sky. “When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine,” Johansson said. 

In a statement, Altman said the Sky voice “is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers.” Altman also said that the company cast the voice actor for the Sky voice before approaching Johansson. “We are sorry to Ms. Johansson that we didn’t communicate better,” he said.

Johansson, famous for roles such as the Marvel superhero Black Widow, played an AI virtual assistant in the 2013 film Her. OpenAI’s connection to that movie was made more explicit by Altman last week, when the CEO posted the word “her” on the social platform X, shortly after the launch of the company’s latest AI model. 

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OpenAI has taken down the voice called Sky and replaced it with another voice called Juniper. Sky, Juniper and three other voices had been available since September 2023, the same month Johansson said that OpenAI reached out to her. 

In a blog post on May 19, the company said that its voices were not intended to sound like any one person. “We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice,” OpenAI wrote. “Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice.”

Artificial intelligence has become a focus in Hollywood as so-called deepfake technology becomes more capable of mimicking a person’s likeness in video and audio. The use of AI was a flashpoint for the strikes by writers and actors that slowed the production of films and TV shows for several months last year.

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For years, AI companies have used data scraped from the internet to train their software, but the practice has become more controversial as systems have improved. Already, litigation is ongoing against AI companies in at least 20 cases — including from newspapers, authors and artists — particularly in California and New York courts.

Johansson has waded into legal issues in Hollywood before. In 2021, the actress sued Walt Disney Co., claiming the entertainment company broke its promise to release her latest film Black Widow only in movie theaters when it made it available for streaming on the Disney+ video service.

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