OpenAI to pull Scarlett Johansson soundalike voice from ChatGPT

20 May 2024

Scarlett Johansson. Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

CEO Sam Altman has previously said that Her, the 2013 film about a man who falls in love with his AI assistant, is his favourite film.

Last week, when OpenAI first unveiled its voice feature to read out answers on ChatGPT, many compared one of the five voice modes – Sky – to that of actor Scarlett Johansson in the film Her. Now, the company is putting a pause on the voice.

In a statement published yesterday (19 May), OpenAI said that it believes AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice.

“We support the creative community and worked closely with the voice acting industry to ensure we took the right steps to cast ChatGPT’s voices. Each actor receives compensation above top-of-market rates, and this will continue for as long as their voices are used in our products,” the company wrote.

“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.”

OpenAI released a new AI model called GPT-4o last week, which is able to interact with text, audio and images in real time. This model is being rolled out to users through ChatGPT as a free upgrade, along with extra benefits for ChatGPT Plus users.

The ‘o’ is short for ‘omni’ – due to its ability to both accept and respond with text, audio and images. The company claims GPT-4o can respond to audio inputs at a similar speed to human response times and is a step towards “much more natural human-computer interaction”.

Each of the voices – Breeze, Cove, Ember, Juniper and Sky – are sampled from professional voice actors that OpenAI partnered with. But many were quick to point out that Sky sounded a lot like Johansson’s AI character in Her, a 2013 film about a man who falls in love with an AI assistant.

Even though the company (including its CTO Mira Murati) denies the resemblance between Sky and Johansson was intentional, there is reason to believe CEO Sam Altman was aware of the similarity even before others pointed it out.

Soon after the voices were rolled out, Altman posted the word “her” on X – presumably a reference to the film that he previously said is his favourite.

“This entire process involved extensive coordination with the actors and the casting team, taking place over five months. We are continuing to collaborate with the actors, who have contributed additional work for audio research and new voice capabilities in GPT-4o,” OpenAI went on.

“Looking ahead, you can expect even more options as we plan to introduce additional voices in ChatGPT to better match the diverse interests and preferences of users.”

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Scarlett Johansson. Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic