OpenAI CEO tenders apology after Scarlett Johansson slams 'imitation' AI voice

"Out of respect for Ms. Johansson, we have paused using Sky's voice in our products," Sam Altman says
An undated image of renowned actor Scarlett Johansson (L) and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. — Disney/Reuters
An undated image of renowned actor Scarlett Johansson (L) and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. — Disney/Reuters

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Tuesday tendered an apology to Scarlett Johansson a day after the actress slammed the company for creating an artificial intelligence (AI) voice with an uncanny resemblance to hers.

It should be noted that the voice, named "Sky," is part of OpenAI's latest technology featuring human-like voices.

Comparisons arose due to Sky's flirtatious and funny demeanor, mirroring Johansson's AI character in the film "Her." Altman, who previously cited "Her" as inspiration for future AI interactions, further fueled the fire by posting "her" on social media.

Johansson expressed outrage, stating her disbelief that Altman would create such a similar voice, especially after offering her a chance to develop a synthetic voice for OpenAI. OpenAI maintained they didn't copy Johansson's voice. They claimed “Sky” belonged to a different actress and stressed casting began before contacting Johansson.

"Out of respect for Ms. Johansson, we have paused using Sky's voice in our products," Altman said in a statement. "We are sorry to Ms Johansson that we didn't communicate better."

OpenAI elaborated in a blog post, revealing collaborations with voice actors to create various AI voice options like Breeze and Ember. Focusing on global appeal, they sought voices that felt timeless and trustworthy. Recordings took place mid-2023 with the voices launching in September 2023.

OpenAI defended their decision to withhold the actors' identities, stating: "We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity's distinctive voice.

A day earlier, taking to social media actress released a statement recalling that last September, she received an offer from Altman, who wanted to hire her to voice the current ChatGPT 4o system.

“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 AI He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people. After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer,” she wrote.

The Black Widow starlet mentioned that nine months later, her friends, family and the general public noted how much the newest system named “Sky” sounded like 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. 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 4o 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 OpenAI, setting out what they had done and asking them to detail the exact process by which they created the ‘Sky’ voice. Consequently, OpenAI 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,” she emphasised.