Artificial Intelligence

Scarlett Johansson hits out at OpenAI over chatbot voice

Author: Editors Desk, George Hammond in San Francisco Source: Financial Times
May 20, 2024 at 22:18
Hollywood actor Scarlett Johansson starred in the film ‘Her’, which was about a virtual assistant that developed a relationship with a human © Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP
Hollywood actor Scarlett Johansson starred in the film ‘Her’, which was about a virtual assistant that developed a relationship with a human © Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP

Hollywood actor says she was ‘shocked’ by use of voice ‘eerily similar’ to her own in latest worry for ChatGPT maker

Scarlett Johansson hit out at OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman after the artificial intelligence start-up programmed its chatbot with an “eerily similar” voice to the actor’s own without her permission.

“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 wrote in a statement on Monday, which was published by NPR.

A dispute with the Hollywood star adds to concerns for Altman, as scrutiny of the $86bn start-up intensifies. OpenAI has set the pace among AI start-ups and Big Tech companies such as Google and Microsoft in developing cutting-edge tools capable of generating responses to a huge range of human input with audio, text or images.

While it has struck licensing deals with the likes of social media platform Reddit and news publishers including the Financial Times, it is facing copyright lawsuits from The New York Times and other US publications, as well as questions about its corporate governance, which were exposed by a boardroom coup against Altman in November.

Its approach to safety has also come into focus after two senior researchers charged with developing AI safety left the company last week.

OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Johansson said Altman tried to hire her to voice his company’s flagship ChatGPT tool in September last year. An updated version of the chatbot, released last week, can converse in real time and respond to written or spoken prompts.

When OpenAI demonstrated the updated model at an event in San Francisco last week, observers were quick to note how close the AI voice was to Johansson’s in the film Her, in which the protagonist falls in love with a virtual assistant played by the American actor.

On the day of the event, Altman posted on social media site X: “her”.

According to Johansson, Altman asked her to voice ChatGPT in order to “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 my voice would be comforting to people.”

Johansson declined the offer, but Altman approached her agent again in the days before OpenAI’s event last week, asking that she reconsider, according to the statement. “Before we could connect, the system was out there,” she said, adding that she was “forced to hire legal counsel” as a result.

Late on Sunday night, OpenAI said it has paused the use of “Sky”, one of five AI voices available with the updated model, while it addressed questions about it.

“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 said.

In her statement, Johansson responded: “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.”

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