Scarlett Johansson reveals OpenAI asked to use her voice


OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT. Users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday, and Johansson herself released a statement saying she hired legal counsel to inquire about the Sky voice and get exact details about how it was developed. Sky is now being paused after OpenAI used it when demoing its new GPT-4o model last week.

“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,” the company wrote in a blog post. “To protect their privacy, we cannot share the names of our voice talents.”

A video of the demo made the rounds on social media last week as users found the voice to be similar to Johansson’s. Some mocked the voice for being overly flirtatious, while others likened it to a male fantasy.

The flirty voice has drawn comparisons to the 2013 film “Her,” in which Johansson voices a sultry virtual assistant. The film’s main character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, ends up falling in love with the virtual assistant.

Although the company hasn’t compared Sky’s voice to Johansson’s, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman tweeted the word “Her” following the company’s event.

Truth Voices confirmed that Johansson released a statement later on Monday saying that OpenAI approached her in September about supplying the voice, which was first reported by NPR correspondent Bobby Allyn. In the statement, she said that she declined “after much consideration and for personal reasons” and was “shocked” when she heard the released demo.

The statement also says that she was “forced to hire legal counsel” and that the company “reluctantly agreed” to change the Sky voice.

OpenAI’s demo last week aimed to showcase the chatbot’s enhanced conversational abilities, but went viral after the sultry voice giggled at almost everything an OpenAI employee was saying. At one point, the chatbot told the employee: “Wow, that’s quite the outfit you’ve got on.” At another point, the chatbot said “Stop it, you’re making me blush” after receiving a compliment.

In its blog post, OpenAI says it wants its chatbots’ voices to sound “approachable” and to “inspire trust.” It also wants them to have a “warm, engaging, confidence-inspiring, charismatic voice.”

Going forward, OpenAI says it plans to “introduce additional voices in ChatGPT to better match the diverse interests and preferences of users.”

Johansson’s statement in full:

“Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 system. 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. He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people.

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.

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 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.

Two days before the ChatGPT 4.0 demo was released, Mr. Altman contacted my agent, asking me to reconsider. Before we could connect, the system was out there.

As a result of their actions, I was forced to hire legal counsel, who wrote two letters to Mr. Altman and OpenAI, setting out what they had done and asking them to detail the exact process by which they created the “Sky” voice. Consequently, OpenAI reluctantly agreed to take down the “Sky” voice.

In a time when we are all grappling with deepfakes and the protection of our own likeness, our own work, our own identities, I believe these are questions that deserve absolute clarity. I look forward to resolution in the form of transparency and the passage of appropriate legislation to help ensure that individual rights are protected.”

OpenAI shared the following statement from Altman: “The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers. 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.”

Update: This story originally published at 8 a.m. PT Monday and was updated to include Johansson’s and Altman’s statements.

Aisha Malik
Aisha Malik
Aisha is a consumer news reporter. Previously, she was a telecom reporter at MobileSyrup. Aisha holds an honours bachelor’s degree from University of Toronto and a master’s degree in journalism from Western University.

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