OpenAI pauses ChatGPT voice that sounds like Scarlett Johansson

When OpenAI debuted its new voice assistant technology this month, it immediately drew comparisons to the 2013 Spike Jonze sci-fi film “Her.”

As it turns out, the likeness may have been too close for comfort.

OpenAI on Monday said it is pausing the use of one of the voices featured as a new option for its artificial intelligence tool, ChatGPT. The San Francisco-based tech company said it was putting the voice known as “Sky” on a break after some people said it sounded similar to actor Scarlett Johansson’s dulcet tones in the acclaimed movie.

In “Her,” Johansson portrays “Samantha,” the disembodied voice of a computer who provides friendship and, eventually, love to a lonely man played by Joaquin Phoenix.

“We’ve heard questions about how we chose the voices in ChatGPT, especially Sky,” OpenAI posted on X on Monday. “We are working to pause the use of Sky while we address them.”

OpenAI Chief Executive Sam Altman seemed to invite parallels to the film in his announcement of the interactive voice feature, saying in a blog post that it “feels like AI from the movies.” “Her” was nominated for multiple Oscars, with Jonze winning the Academy Award for original screenplay.

Despite the striking sonic resemblance, Johansson did not actually provide the voice of OpenAI’s “Sky,” one of multiple voice options available on the app. Rather, another actor was using her own “natural speaking voice,” OpenAI said in a Monday blog post.

“We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice,” the company said.

The move comes at a time when concerns have been raised within the entertainment industry about whether copyrighted material is used to train AI models.

OpenAI has said its large language models, including those that power ChatGPT, are developed through information available publicly on the internet, material acquired through licenses with third parties and data its users and “human trainers” provide.

The company has said it believes training AI models on publicly available materials on the internet is “fair use.”

But some media outlets, including the New York Times, have sued OpenAI, concerned about how its stories are used by the tech company.

Sony Music Group is in the process of sending out hundreds of letters to AI developers and music streaming services, including OpenAI and Google, warning them to not use its artists’ music to train generative AI tools without its permission. Actors and writers have also raised concerns about AI’s impact on their livelihoods.

Talent agencies are also being proactive in protecting their clients against unauthorized use of their likeness and voices. Century City-based Creative Artists Agency is helping clients through the Vault, which scans clients’ bodies and records their movements and voices to create a digital version of them to protect against copyright infringement.

Johansson is a client of CAA. CAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

OpenAI said that the voices for ChatGPT — called Breeze, Cove, Ember, Juniper and Sky — are from voice actors who went through an audition process. More than 400 people applied. Some of the characteristics OpenAI was seeking include “a voice that feels timeless” and “an approachable voice that inspires trust.”

The selected actors came to San Francisco to record their voices in June and July of 2023, and their voices were added in September of that year, the company said. The company said the actors were compensated with “above top-of-market rates” and that they were aware of the intentions and scope of the project.

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

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