Scarlett Johansson Challenges OpenAI’s Dystopian Tech


There are two kinds of people when it comes to technology. Some view dystopian films like Her—the 2013 movie about a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) developing a relationship with his phone’s voice (Scarlett Johansson)—as stark warnings of our future. Others see them as aspirational visions.

You and I fall into the former category, but tech moguls such as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman belong to the latter. At least that’s what Johansson thinks.

Earlier this week, the actress released a statement alleging that Altman and OpenAI copied her voice for ChatGPT without her permission. Johansson explained that nine months ago, Altman approached her with a proposal to license her voice for the new ChatGPT voice assistant. He believed it would be “comforting to people” uneasy with AI technology, given her role in Her.

“After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer,” Johansson said.

Nine months later, just two days before the new ChatGPT product launch, Altman contacted her team again, urging a reconsideration. Johansson claimed she hadn’t even had time to respond before the product was launched, featuring “Sky,” a voice eerily similar to hers.

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered, and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference,” Johansson stated.

She continued, “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.” Johansson believes that after explicitly declining to have her likeness used, Altman went ahead anyway and then bragged about it.

So, where does Johansson stand? Do we own our voices? Following her statement and her legal team’s demand that OpenAI “detail the exact process by which they created the ‘Sky’ voice,” the company put the feature “on pause” but denied that the voice was Johansson’s.

“We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice—Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice,” stated OpenAI. They added that they couldn’t release the actress’s identity for privacy reasons.

Simple enough, right? Perhaps the professional actress OpenAI used just happens to sound a lot like Johansson. But Johansson seems convinced there was intent, especially after Altman’s tweet, and so do many others. The Washington Post wrote, “At the very least, this was boneheaded. OpenAI ticked off a famous person who has already had artificial intelligence used against her. And Altman seemed to say that he wanted ‘Her’ while his company insists it didn’t copy the her behind ‘Her.’”

Johansson’s fight against Big Tech may not be the most consequential case in AI technology, but having a Hollywood celebrity will certainly draw attention. If she decides to sue, her complaint will join a long list of lawsuits the company is currently facing, including one with Elon Musk, in which the billionaire claims OpenAI has “abandoned its mission by pursuing profit over its stated mission of delivering artificial general intelligence for the benefit of humanity.”

Whatever happens, maybe we should see this whole incident as a warning and cease mimicking the dystopias of science fiction movies.

Kara Kennedy
Kara Kennedy
Kara Kennedy is a staff writer with a focus on multinational news, particularly in the United Kingdom. She has written for various publications including MailOnline, Washington Examiner, The Telegraph, and Yahoo News. Kara's articles cover a range of topics including opinion pieces, cultural events, celebrity news, and social commentary. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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