Scarlett Johansson and OpenAI's Controversy Over AI Voice Sky

Recently, OpenAI has found itself at the center of a controversy involving Scarlett Johansson and their AI voice assistant named Sky. The situation began when users noticed a striking similarity between Sky’s voice and Johansson’s, leading to widespread discussions and legal actions.

The AI Voice “Sky” and Public Reaction

Last week, OpenAI showcased its new GPT-4.0 model, highlighting Sky’s enhanced conversational abilities. The demo quickly went viral on social media, where many users commented on the voice’s resemblance to Johansson’s. Some described the voice as overly flirtatious, drawing comparisons to Johansson’s role in the 2013 film “Her,” where she voiced a seductive virtual assistant named Samantha.

Scarlett Johansson’s Response

Following the demo, Scarlett Johansson released a statement expressing her surprise and frustration. She revealed that OpenAI had approached her in September to voice their system, an offer she declined for personal reasons. Johansson stated:

“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.”

Legal Actions Taken

Johansson disclosed that she was forced to hire legal counsel to address the issue, leading to two letters being sent to OpenAI. She demanded clarity on the development process of Sky’s voice. The company eventually agreed to pause the use of Sky’s voice, although they maintained that it was not intended to mimic Johansson’s.

OpenAI’s Official Statement

OpenAI addressed the controversy in a blog post, stating:

“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. To protect their privacy, we cannot share the names of our voice talents.”

They emphasized that Sky’s voice was meant to sound “approachable” and to “inspire trust,” while acknowledging the need for better communication with Johansson regarding their intentions and developments.

Comparison to “Her” and Public Perception

The controversy deepened when OpenAI CEO Sam Altman tweeted the word “Her,” alluding to the film where Johansson voices a virtual assistant. This reference stirred more speculation and criticism, with some suggesting the choice of Sky’s voice was an intentional nod to Johansson’s role in the film.

The demo itself also attracted criticism for the nature of the interactions. Sky’s voice was perceived as flirtatious, with lines like “Wow, that’s quite the outfit you’ve got on” and “Stop it, you’re making me blush.” These exchanges were seen by some as reinforcing gender stereotypes and male fantasies, which further fueled the debate over ethical AI use.

The Importance of Ethical AI and Celebrity Voices

The incident with Johansson highlights broader issues regarding the use of AI and celebrity likenesses. As deepfakes and digital simulations become more sophisticated, the protection of individual identities and likenesses has become a significant concern. Johansson’s call for transparency and appropriate legislation underscores the need for clear guidelines in this rapidly evolving field.

Moving Forward: OpenAI’s Plans

In response to the controversy, OpenAI announced plans to introduce additional voices for ChatGPT to cater to diverse user preferences. They reiterated their commitment to developing voices that inspire trust and engagement without mimicking real individuals.

The incident between Scarlett Johansson and OpenAI serves as a pivotal moment in the discussion about AI ethics and the protection of individual likenesses. While OpenAI maintains that Sky’s voice was not intended to mimic Johansson, the resemblance and subsequent public outcry demonstrate the complexities of AI development and the need for rigorous ethical standards.

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