“I was forced to hire legal counsel,” actress Scarlett Johansson responds after Microsoft partner OpenAI ‘clones’ her voice for ChatGPT

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman at OpenAI Dev Day.
(Image credit: OpenAI)

What you need to know

  • Recently, Microsoft partner OpenAI demonstrated new AI tools that come with natural language conversational dialogue. 
  • The “voice” chosen sounded eerily similar to Samantha in the AI Netflix movie “Her,” voiced by Scarlett Johansson of Marvel Avengers fame. 
  • OpenAI mysteriously pulled the voice yesterday, likely ahead of planned legal action by Johansson. 
  • Today, Johansson issued a statement confirming that OpenAI had essentially begged her for the rights to her voice, despite claiming it had used other voice actors in a large and defensive article. 
  • Microsoft is partnered with OpenAI for language models, following a multi-year, multi-billion dollar investment. 
  • UPDATE: Sam Altman has responded with statement denying the allegation “Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers.”

Shared exclusively via NPR, Marvel Avengers alumni Scarlett Johansson has reacted angrily to OpenAI’s seeming theft of her voice to power its new AI assistants. In the statement, Johansson shares that she has sought legal counsel, and will be persuing action against the firm which could have widespread implications for the legalities of ChatGPT, Microsoft Copilot, and similar technologies. 

Microsoft’s Copilot assistant is powered by OpenAI’s language models, based on GPT-4. Last week, OpenAI and CEO Sam Altman demonstrated the latest version of GPT, which feels like a large leap in natural language reproduction. However, users noted the strange familiarity in the AI’s voice. Similar to the AI from the Netflix movie “Her,” OpenAI’s own artificial assistant sounded eerily similar to Scarlett Johansson. 

“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.” 

See the full statement below. 

Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 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 Al. He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people.
After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer. Nine months later, my friends, family and the general public all noted how much the newest system named “Sky” sounded like me.
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 4.0 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 OpenAl, setting out what they had done and asking them to detail the exact process by which they created the “Sky” voice. Consequently, OpenAl 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. “

Seemingly aware they could potentially get sued, OpenAI pulled the voice technology yesterday, and released a large and very defensive tranche explaining how it arrived at the oddly familiar tones. OpenAI doesn’t seem to think its defence will hold up in a court of law, however, given that it has fully pulled the voice work despite claiming it was produced from 400 submissions and bespoke recordings at its HQ.

UPDATE: Sam Altman publicly responds

Today Altman officially responded to the allegations with a quote provided to a CNBC journalist “Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers. We cast the voice actor behind Sky’s voice before any outreach to Ms. Johansson. Out of respect for Ms. Johansson, we have paused using Sky’s voice in our products. We are sorry to Ms. Johansson that we didn’t communicate better.”

OpenAI drags Microsoft into murky waters

The pace of development of AI is at complete odds with the pace of legislative interest. Bureaucracy-laden governments in the west are utterly unprepared to deal with the deluge of issues artificial intelligence is going to cause with regards to copyright, false information, and beyond — even before we consider how entire industries will vanish over night. 

All the latest news, reviews, and guides for Windows and Xbox diehards.

Today at Microsoft’s AI and Surface Event, the firm unveiled a range of new features that Microsoft Copilot will produce, including in-game answers in Minecraft, as well as the ability to recall previous files. Microsoft has emphasized that its AI systems won’t send your data up to the cloud unless you explicitly opt-in. This is all thanks to new NPU neural processing units that will perform AI tasks on local hardware, as part of Microsoft’s new Copilot+ AI PC initiative. 

AI systems like the voice powering OpenAI’s ChatGPT tools or indeed, ChatGPT itself, requires masses of human-created data in order for computers to remix the information and reproduce it. That requires millions of articles, comments, photos, videos, and other types of content “borrowed” by Microsoft and its partners, without any form of compensation. This potential exploration of Scarlett Johansson legal action is just the tip of a murky legal iceberg that Microsoft potentially finds itself directly in front of. 

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

Read More

jez@windowscentral.com Jez Corden