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  • Writer's pictureSarah Ruivivar

OpenAI Pauses Voice Amid Controversy

📸 ModelProp / Midjourney

OpenAI has hit the pause button on one of its ChatGPT voices, known as "Sky," after users noted its striking similarity to Scarlett Johansson.


The company announced the decision on Monday, following Johansson’s statement that she had hired legal counsel to investigate the matter.


The controversy began when OpenAI demoed its new GPT-4o model using Sky’s voice, which many found eerily similar to Johansson’s. The voice was described as overly flirtatious, drawing comparisons to Johansson’s role in the 2013 film “Her,” where she voiced a sultry virtual assistant.


OpenAI clarified in a blog post that Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress. “We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice,” the company stated. They also noted the need to protect the privacy of their voice talents, hence not revealing names.


The demo video quickly went viral, with some users mocking the voice for its flirtatious tone. At one point, the chatbot told an OpenAI employee, “Wow, that’s quite the outfit you’ve got on,” and at another, “Stop it, you’re making me blush,” after receiving a compliment.


Johansson confirmed that OpenAI had approached her in September to supply the voice but she declined for personal reasons. She was “shocked” upon hearing the demo and felt compelled to hire legal counsel. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman tweeted the word “Her” after the event, adding fuel to the fire.


 

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Here is Johansson’s statement in full:


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


After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer. Nine months later, my friends, family and the general public all noted how much the newest system named “Sky” sounded like me.


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 that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference. Mr. Altman even insinuated that the similarity was intentional, tweeting a single word “her” — a reference to the film in which I voiced a chat system, Samantha, who forms an intimate relationship with a human.


Two days before the ChatGPT 4.0 demo was released, Mr. Altman contacted my agent, asking me to reconsider. Before we could connect, the system was out there.


As a result of their actions, I was forced to hire legal counsel, who wrote two letters to Mr. Altman and OpenAI, setting out what they had done and asking them to detail the exact process by which they created the “Sky” voice. Consequently, OpenAI reluctantly agreed to take down the “Sky” voice.


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. I look forward to resolution in the form of transparency and the passage of appropriate legislation to help ensure that individual rights are protected.”


In response, OpenAI has paused the use of Sky’s voice and plans to introduce additional voices to better match user preferences. Altman expressed regret over the miscommunication, stating, “The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers. We are sorry to Ms. Johansson that we didn’t communicate better.”


As OpenAI navigates this PR storm, it remains committed to creating voices that are “approachable” and “inspire trust,” aiming to avoid any further celebrity likeness controversies.



 

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