Scarlett Johansson says she was ‘shocked’ and ‘angered’ by ChatGPT voice ‘imitation’

Scarlett Johansson has issued a statement after OpenAI pulled a controversial voice for ChatGPT over claims it imitated the star.

The voice, known as ‘Sky’, had been intended to allow ChatGPT to communicate with its users through speech. It was one of a range of voice options offered within the artificial intelligence tool.

However, in recent days the company has been criticised and mocked for the ‘Sky’ voice and its apparent similarity to Johansson. The outrage became so widespread that it was mocked by the actor’s husband Colin Jost on Saturday Night Live.

Many suggested that the voice had been created to reference Her, the film in which Johansson plays a virtual assistant whom a man falls in love with. OpenAI chief executive officer Sam Altman has previously said that Her is his favourite film.

In her statement, Johansson reveals that she had previously been approached by Altman about lending her voice to the system.

“Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 system,” wrote the Black Widow star.

Scarlett Johansson voiced a virtual assistant in the 2013 film ‘Her’, which starred Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with his AI (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
Scarlett Johansson voiced a virtual assistant in the 2013 film ‘Her’, which starred Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with his AI (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

“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 Al. 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 OpenAl, setting out what they had done and asking them to detail the exact process by which they created the ‘Sky’ voice. Consequently, OpenAl 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.”

OpenAI has repeatedly denied that the voice was intended to sound like Scarlett Johansson. It did so again in its announcement that the voice would be paused.

“We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice – Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice,” the company wrote. “To protect their privacy, we cannot share the names of our voice talents.”

OpenAI claimed that the voice had been created through work with “independent, well-known, award-winning casting directors and producers”, and that the five voices were chosen from more than 400 submissions from voice and screen actors. It discussed the technology with those that were chosen, it said.

It did not give any of the names of those actors, or anyone else involved in the process.