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Scarlett Johansson hired lawyers to fend off ‘eerily similar’ OpenAI voice

Actress Scarlett Johansson said she was “forced to hire legal counsel” to demand the removal of an artificial intelligence voice for OpenAI’s chatbot that sounded too much like her.

In a statement released Monday, the actor said she received an offer in September from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman to voice an audio feature for the company’s popular ChatGPT chatbot. She said she decided not to participate in the project “after careful consideration and for personal reasons.”

In Altman’s offer, “He told me he thought that by voicing the system, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers feel comfortable with the seismic shift regarding humans and AI,” she said.

Last week, OpenAI released new audio tools and held demonstrations including a voice called Sky. “When I heard the demo released, I was shocked, angry and incredulous that Mr. Altman could pursue a voice that sounded so eerily like mine,” Johansson said.

In a statement, Altman said Sky’s voice “is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to sound like hers.” Altman also said the company chose the voice actor for Sky’s voice before contacting Johansson. “We are sorry to Ms Johansson for not having communicated better,” he said.

Johansson, famous for roles such as Marvel superhero Black Widow, played an AI virtual assistant in the 2013 film Her. The connection between OpenAI and that film was made more explicit by Altman last week, when CEO posted the word “she” on social platform X, shortly after the launch of the company’s latest AI model.

OpenAI removed the voice called Sky and replaced it with another voice called Juniper. Sky, Juniper and three other voices had been available since September, the same month Johansson said OpenAI contacted her.

In a blog post published Sunday, the company said its voices were not intended to sound like those of a single person. “We believe that AI voices should not deliberately imitate the distinctive voice of a celebrity,” OpenAI wrote. “Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to another professional actress using her own natural voice.”

Artificial intelligence has become a priority in Hollywood as so-called deepfake technology becomes more capable of imitating a person’s image in video and audio. The use of AI was behind writers’ and actors’ strikes that slowed production of films and TV shows for several months last year.

For years, AI companies have used data scraped from the Internet to train their software, but the practice has become more controversial as the systems have improved. Lawsuits are already underway against AI companies in at least 20 cases – including from newspapers, authors and artists – including in courts in California and New York.

Johansson has previously addressed legal issues in Hollywood. In 2021, the actor sued Walt Disney Co., claiming the entertainment company failed to keep its promise to release its latest film Black Widow only in theaters when it made it available for streaming on the Disney+ video service.

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