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Tom’s Guide
Tom’s Guide
Josh Render

OpenAI removes Sky voice after Scarlett Johansson legal threat — here’s what’s going on


Scarlett Johansson has recently accused Open AI of copying her voice after denying permission for them to use it for their voice assistant. 

This comes just after OpenAI took the voice down due to the similarity. However, we didn't know before now that Johansson herself was involved.

Johansson's legal team provided a statement to NPR from the actor and discussed the two letters sent to OpenAI demanding the company disclose how it developed an AI personal assistant voice that sounds a lot like the actor.

In her statement, Johansson said, “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 feel comfortable with the seismic shift concerning humans and AI. He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people.” 

Johansson declined the offer after “much consideration and for personal reasons.” However, when OpenAI demoed GPT-4o, their latest large language model last week, Johansson was informed by numerous people that ‘Sky’ sounded like her. 

(Image credit: Future)

 Johanssen went on to watch the video and said she was “shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mind that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference.” she also mentioned that Altman had reached out to her only a few days before the demo to ask her to reconsider, but released the video before she could respond. 

An OpenAI spokesperson stated that “The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson's, and it was never intended to resemble hers,” in a statement sent to Engadget that was attributed to Altman. The statement went on to say. “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."

OpenAI also released a lengthy post on Monday that detailed how the company chooses voices for its AI assistants. The post explains how actors are and mentions that "Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice. To protect their privacy, we cannot share the names of our voice talents." 

However, this release only came after Johansson's legal council sent letters asking for an explanation. "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," Johansson wrote. "I look forward to resolution in the form of transparency and the passage of appropriate legislation to help ensure that individual rights are protected."

The rise of AI-generated voices has allowed assistants to sound more real, and allow for more connection with users. However, this situation reveals one of the bigger concerns around how easy it is to recreate voices. This is added to the other concerns about making AI-generated voices sound so real that they can be used to trick people into thinking they are speaking to loved ones. 

We'll keep following this story to see if OpenAI and Johansson come to an agreement, or take it all the way to court. Whatever happens, it'll likely provide a key precedent for how AI will be permitted to sound and act going forward.

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