With AI tools gaining popularity, the fight over actors’ voices and images has become a topic of discussion. Hollywood studios have been wondering how they can leverage the technology to enhance the entertainment experience while distinguishing AI voices from humans. While technological advancement is fascinating, it can also be scary.

Ace actress Scarlett Johansson was shocked, angered and in disbelief when she heard the voice of OpenAI‘s AI-powered chatbot that sounds “eerily similar” to hers. She revealed that OpenAI asked her to be the voice behind ChatGPT but she had declined.

The tech giant still went ahead and created a voice that sounded just like her. In a statement, Scarlett says that she has now been “forced to hire legal counsel” and has sent two letters to OpenAI inquiring how the soundalike ChatGPT voice, known as Sky, was made.

What Actually Happened

OpenAI issued a casting call last year and hired an actress for its AI program ‘Sky’. Documents reveal that the voice actor for ‘Sky’ was hired months before Sam Altman contacted Johansson. According to interviews with several people involved in the hiring process, OpenAI did not mention that it was looking for someone with a Scarlett Johansson-like voice.

The agent of the actor hired for ‘Sky’ also confirmed neither Scarlett Johansson nor the movie “Her” was ever mentioned by the company. However, Johansson alleged that the company copied her voice after she turned down a request by CEO Sam Altman in September last year to license it. The actress “insinuated that the similarity was intentional”. And it doesn’t help that Altman’s cryptic tweet with the word ‘her’ suggested the same.

OpenAI said the voice in ‘Sky‘ comes from an actor they hired who is talking in their normal speaking voice. The company declined to share the actor’s name, citing privacy concerns. The voice of Sky has been available since OpenAI launched ChatGPT’s voice mode last September. But last week when OpenAI showcased a demo of an updated AI model that made the voice more expressive, Scarlett’s voice debate came into the picture.

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OpenAI Shuts Sky

Scarlett was backed by SAG-AFTRA, an influential body that represents television and radio artists, following which Altman announced that they would be removing ‘Sky’ from its products. Johansson’s claim has given rise to scrutiny of AI companies using copyrighted content with permissions to train tools like ChatGPT. Mitch Glazier, who currently leads the Recording Industry Association of America, says that the Hollywood actor may have a strong case against OpenAI.

Sam Altman’s Defence

The OpenAI CEO has made it clear that he admires Johansson’s work. He’s said that the movie “Her“, which features Scarlett Johansson as an AI voice assistant, is his favourite film. His post on X saying “Her” after the ChatGPT event last week was considered to be a reference to the voice demo the company presented featuring an assistant that sounded just like Scar Jo.

In the blog post, the company wrote that it believed AI voices “should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice” and that the voice of Sky belongs to a “different professional actress.” 

In a statement, Altman clarified, “The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers. 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.

Scarlett Johansson OpenAI ChatGPT Sky model Sam Altman CEO voice dispute sue legal battle celebrities Hollywood actress AI technology

It seems like for the time being, Johansson is only looking for an explanation from the tech giant. In her letter to Sam Altman, Scarlett said that she’s looking for “resolution in the form of transparency” and has asked OpenAI to “detail the exact process by which they created” the voice of Sky. Let’s see what OpenAI has to say on that.

Will Scarlett and Sam end up in a legal battle or will OpenAI shut down ‘Sky’ for good? We’ll have to wait and watch.