Scarlett Johansson Says She Was ‘Shocked’ By OpenAI’s Chatbot Imitation

Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson expressed her “anger” and “shock” at OpenAI’s launch of a chatbot that sounded much like her. Johansson said that the company and its creator, Sam Altman, were purposefully mimicking her voice, even though she had previously turned down an offer to provide the voice of the new chatbot.

Recently, OpenAI debuted a new chatbot model with a voice called “Sky,” which immediately caught the attention of commentators since it sounded remarkably similar to Johansson’s in the 2013 movie “Her.” OpenAI said it would eliminate the voice in reaction to criticism, insisting that it was never meant to sound like Johansson.

As the BBC could see in a message, Johansson expressed her strong disagreement: “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.” She pointed out that Altman even tweeted about “her,” a reference to Johansson’s role in the movie, which is an AI system that becomes close to a human. This suggested that the resemblance was intentional.

Johansson recounted that Altman had approached her in September to voice the new chatbot. “[Mr. Altman] told me that he felt that by voicing the system, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers feel comfortable with the seismic shift concerning humans and AI,” she explained. Johansson eventually turned down the offer for private reasons, even though Altman assured her that her voice would calm users.

Two days before the launch of the Sky chatbot, Johansson’s representative received a message from Altman asking her to change her mind. Johansson sought legal counsel and wrote two legal letters to OpenAI to inquire about the voice’s origin when the chatbot debuted. “In a time when we are all grappling with deepfakes and the protection of our likeness, our work, our own identities, I believe these questions deserve absolute clarity,” Johansson emphasized.

In a statement provided to the BBC, OpenAI refuted any intentional imitation. “The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers,” Altman stated. “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.”

The episode brings to light broader concerns about AI. OpenAI is receiving more attention for using voice likenesses without permission, in addition to the legal difficulties it was already facing over its use of copyrighted material.

Dan Stein, head of AI voice licensing company Voice-Swap, warned, “To use someone’s voice without permission feels particularly invasive at a time when distrust of AI and concern over its potential harms are rampant. Whether OpenAI trained their new Sky voice using audio from Scarlett Johansson or a sound-a-like, the fact remains that she refused permission, and her identity was exploited regardless. It sets a dangerous precedent for copyright and consent if the field’s most prominent company behaves this way.”

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