ChatGPT suspends AI voice that sounds like Scarlett Johansson

OpenAI removed a heavily promoted voice option from ChatGPT on Monday, following a widespread reaction to the flirtatious, feminine voice that sounded almost identical to Scarlett Johansson.

The company used the voice, which it calls “Sky”, during its widely publicized event last week debuting the capabilities of the new ChatGPT-4o artificial intelligence model. Researchers talked with the AI assistant to show off Sky’s personable and responsive affectations, which users and members of the media immediately compared to Johansson’s AI companion character in the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her.

Even OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, seemed to suggest that the vocal design was intentionally mimicking Johansson’s character, posting a one-word tweet after the presentation that simply said “her”. Less than a week later, OpenAI felt compelled to explicitly clarify that Sky was not based on Johansson. The company published a blogpost about Sky’s creation and claimed that the company values the voice acting industry.

“Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice,” the blogpost read. “To protect their privacy, we cannot share the names of our voice talents.”

While many commentators remarked on Sky’s similarities to Johansson in Her – including Johansson’s husband and Saturday Night Live cast member, Colin Jost, during a segment on the show’s season finale – others questioned why the voice was so fawning and gendered. “You can really tell that a man built this tech,” the Daily Show host Desi Lydic joked last week. “She’s like, ‘I have all the information in the world, but I don’t know anything.’”

OpenAI claimed that it selected ChatGPT’s vocals based on a range of criteria that included having a “timeless” quality and being “an approachable voice that inspires trust”. OpenAI reviewed hundreds of voice acting submissions over a period of five months last year, the company said, releasing five different voice options for its ChatGPT in September. The chosen actors then flew to San Francisco for recording sessions that allowed OpenAI to train its models on their voices.

The company pulled back its Sky voice days after several top members of its safety team resigned, with a key researcher, Jan Leike, saying after he quit that the company was prioritizing “shiny products” over safety culture and processes. Altman and his fellow co-founder Greg Brockman defended the company over the weekend, stating that it would not release a product if there were safety concerns.

OpenAI’s blogpost on Sunday about its creation of ChatGPT voices also made numerous mentions of the company collaborating with entertainment industry professionals and compensating voice actors for their work. AI companies, especially OpenAI, have been the focus of intense pushback, including lawsuits, from entertainers, creators and media companies over allegations of copyright violations and concern that AI will replace human workers. Major entertainment unions, such as Sag-Aftra, have gone on strike over issues that include how their likenesses will be used by artificial intelligence.

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