ChatGPT suspends Scarlett Johansson-style voice amid actor's outrage

OpenAI has suspended a voice option in its ChatGPT product that closely resembled Scarlett Johansson's voice, following the actor's objections. Johansson expressed her surprise and anger at the use of a voice eerily similar to hers without her permission.

Johansson revealed in a statement that OpenAI approached her nine months before she released her AI system, but she declined for personal reasons. Despite her refusal, she was “shocked” to hear the voice option “Sky,” which friends and news media said was indistinguishable from her voice.

In response to the backlash, OpenAI removed the heavily promoted Sky voice option from ChatGPT on Monday. The company had showcased Sky at a high-profile event last week, showcasing the capabilities of the new ChatGPT-4o model. The voice immediately drew comparisons to Johansson's AI companion character in the 2013 film “Her.”

Adding to the controversy, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman posted a tweet after the presentation that read “her,” implying a deliberate resemblance to Johansson's character. However, OpenAI later clarified that Sky was not based on Johansson, stating in a blog post that the voice belonged to another professional actress using her natural speaking voice. The company has chosen not to reveal the names of their voice talents to protect their privacy.

Johansson claimed that Altman initially pitched the project to her, suggesting that her voice could help bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and make consumers more comfortable with AI. He contacted her again through her agent just two days before Sky was released and asked her to reconsider. Johansson's lawyers then contacted OpenAI to demand the vote's removal.

The criticism of Sky was not limited to the similarity to Johansson. Some commentators, including The Daily Show host Desi Lydic, criticized the voice for being overly fawning and gendered, with Lydic joking that it was clear that “a man built this technology.”

OpenAI defended its ChatGPT voice selection process, saying it aimed for a voice with a “timeless” quality that would inspire trust. The company reviewed hundreds of submissions before selecting five voting options for ChatGPT, which were released in September. The chosen actors then participated in recording sessions to train OpenAI's models.

Sky's removal coincided with significant internal turmoil at OpenAI, with several top members of the security team resigning. One key researcher, Jan Leike, criticized the company for prioritizing “shiny products” over safety protocols. Despite this, Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman insisted that OpenAI would not release a product if there were security issues.

OpenAI's blog post highlighted its collaboration with entertainment industry professionals and compensation for voice actors. The technology industry, including OpenAI, is facing intense criticism and legal challenges from entertainers, creators and media companies over potential copyright violations and fears that AI could replace human workers. Major entertainment unions, such as Sag-Aftra, have gone on strike over issues such as AI's use of similarities.

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