Jacob Kastrenakes, reporting for The Verge:

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI asked her to be the voice behind ChatGPT — but that when she declined, the company went ahead and created a voice that sounded just like her. In a statement shared to NPR, Johansson says that she has now been “forced to hire legal counsel” and has sent two letters to OpenAI inquiring how the soundalike ChatGPT voice, known as Sky, was made.

“Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 system,” Johansson writes. She says that Altman contacted her agent as recently as two days before the company first demoed the ChatGPT voice asking for her to reconsider.

Altman has made it clear that he admires Johansson’s work. He’s said that Her, which features Johansson as an AI voice assistant, is his favorite film; after the ChatGPT event last week, he posted the word “her,” seemingly in reference to the voice demo the company presented, which featured an assistant that sounded just like Johansson.

OpenAI said this morning that it was pulling the voice of Sky in order to address questions around “how we chose the voices in ChatGPT.” The Verge has reached out to OpenAI for comment.

Johansson says she was “shocked, angered and in disbelief” over how “eerily similar” the voice of Sky sounded to herself. OpenAI said the voice comes from an actor who they hired who is speaking in their normal speaking voice. The company declined to share the actor’s name, citing privacy concerns.

You can read Johansson’s letter here, and I encourage you to do so. Here is the story from her side:

  1. OpenAI asks Johansson to be the voice for ChatGPT. Johansson refuses, citing personal reasons.
  2. OpenAI goes out and hires another voice actor who sounds like her in September of last year. The company launches the voice later in the year.
  3. OpenAI launches a new model earlier in May that is more expressive, highlighting the similarities between the voice, “Sky,” and Johansson.

I have absolutely no idea what Altman, OpenAI’s chief executive, was thinking with this atrocious decision. It clearly shows the company’s lack of regard for copyright laws and exemplifies the need for strong protections for actors in the age of artificial intelligence. As if this sleazy maneuver wasn’t enough to keep under wraps, Altman went ahead and posted on the social media website X: “her” after the Monday “Spring Update” keynote, hosted by Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer. Did OpenAI seriously think Johansson, one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, wouldn’t pursue legal action against this?

Altman could’ve claimed plausible deniability because he wasn’t directly involved in the hiring of the new voice actress, but by posting about the movie, in which Johansson stars, it links him to the chaos. And posting about the movie makes him look even worse from a moral standpoint; it’s almost like a “just because you didn’t agree doesn’t mean I can’t clone your voice” type of sinister thinking, but maybe that’s just me being cynical. Even if Altman didn’t post, I still would’ve believed that he was involved because of his affinity for the film and because the voice sounds so eerily similar to Johansson’s.

Johansson isn’t out to get OpenAI — I don’t even think she’s very upset — but she does want some transparency as to who it hired for the voice and they were chosen. (Clearly, because they sound like Johansson, though I find it difficult that OpenAI will willingly admit that.) I wish to know this information too, because in an age where deepfakes are so prevalent, transparency and openness are crucial. OpenAI, as the leader of the AI revolution, needs to take accountability for this and respect copyright laws.

And no, I hardly doubt this will alter Apple’s negotiations with OpenAI for iOS 18.