Sam Altman Dodges Scarlett Johansson AI Voice Controversy: “It’s Not Her Voice”

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has made his first public comments on the Scarlett Johansson voice controversy, though he opted to mostly sidestep questions about the “Sky” chatbot that many users felt sounded like the actress.

Altman was interviewed by The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson (whose company cut a deal with OpenAI earlier this week) at the AI for Good Summit Thursday, hosted by the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency focused on communications issues.

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Thompson asked Altman about Johansson’s concerns about the OpenAI voice.

“It’s not her voice, it’s not supposed to be. I’m sorry for the confusion, clearly you think it is,” Altman told Thompson. “People are going to have different opinions about how much voices sound alike, but we don’t. It’s not her voice.”

Altman added that he was “not sure what else to say.” Thompson did not ask a follow-up question about Johansson.

The controversy began after OpenAI publicly demoed a voice function for ChatGPT, with one of the voices, “Sky,” sounding similar to Johansson. OpenAI would go on to pull the voice.

Johansson later released a lengthy statement in which she revealed that Altman had been trying to recruit her to lend her voice to the project since fall of 2023, and reached back out to her agent just days before the OpenAI demo.

“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,” Johansson shared in a statement. “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.”

Altman had also tweeted “her,” during the demo, seemingly a reference to the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her, in which Johansson voiced an emotive AI.

OpenAI says that it began the casting process for its AI voices earlier last year, and that it had hired an actress (not Johansson) to voice Sky.

The issue comes as the conflict between generative AI and the entertainment industry continues to simmer, with voice actors filing lawsuits, and SAG-AFTRA hoping to lobby the passage of bills cementing likeness and voice rights.

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