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Scarlett Johansson says OpenAI tried to hire her before releasing similar voice

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Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson in the 2013 movie 'Her'

Scarlett Johansson says OpenAI tried to hire her as a voice actress for ChatGPT before releasing a similar voice, which the company says was voiced by a woman who wants to stay anonymous.

Johansson, in a statement released through her publicist, said OpenAI CEO Sam Altman approached her in September 2023 with an offer to be the voice of GPT-4o, which was released earlier this month.

“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,” Johansson said. “He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people.”

“After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer,” she said.

Johansson was the voice of an AI virtual assistant in the 2013 movie ‘Her,’ which also stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly. In this movie, Twombly falls in love and develops an intimate relationship with the AI, which goes by the name Samantha.

Altman referenced the movie on his Twitter/X account when GPT-4o was released, writing simply: “her”.

“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,” Johansson said.

Johansson said her agent was contacted by Altman one more time just two days before the demo was released, asking her to reconsider, but the system went out before the two could reconnect.

“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,” Johansson said. “Consequently, OpenAl reluctantly agreed to take down the ‘Sky’ voice.”

Responding to her statement, Altman claimed that the voice actress behind ‘Sky’ in ChatGPT-4o was hired before he reached out to Johansson, and that the company paused using Sky’s voice “out of respect for Ms. Johansson.”

“The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers,” Altman said in a brief statement of his own. “We are sorry to Ms. Johansson that we didn’t communicate better.”

According to OpenAI, Sky’s voice belongs to another professional actress who used her own natural speaking voice. However, the company has refused to share her and other names “to protect their privacy.”

It was not immediately clear whether Johansson plans to pursue legal action against OpenAI.

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