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OpenAI apologizes to Scarlett Johansson over voice use

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OpenAI CEO Sam Altman issued an apology to Scarlett Johansson on Tuesday after the Hollywood star expressed outrage over a new artificial intelligence-generated voice that she claimed sounded eerily similar to her own.

The voice in question, dubbed “Sky,” was unveiled last week as part of OpenAI’s release of its more humanlike GPT-4 AI technology.

In a statement, Altman clarified, “The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers.” He added, “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.”

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Johansson had previously stated that she was “shocked, angered, and in disbelief” that Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so similar to hers, noting that even her closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference. The actress revealed that Altman had approached her in September about potentially working with OpenAI to create a synthetic voice, but she declined the offer.

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In a demo, Sky’s voice exhibited a flirtatious and humorous personality, seamlessly transitioning between topics – a stark contrast to most existing chatbots. The technology and sound of the voice drew comparisons to the AI character voiced by Johansson in the 2013 film “Her,” which Altman had previously cited as an inspiration for the direction he envisions AI interactions heading.

OpenAI, in a blogpost, explained that it began casting voice actors for its AI models in early 2023, seeking characteristics such as a “timeless” and “trustworthy” voice. The company stated that it cannot share the names of the voice talents to protect their privacy, emphasizing that “AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice.”

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The controversy surrounding Sky’s voice comes just days after OpenAI admitted to disbanding its “superalignment” team, which was dedicated to mitigating the long-term risks of artificial intelligence. The team members have been integrated into other projects and research efforts within the company.

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