Scarlett Johansson and OpenAI’s Trust Issues

Scarlett Johansson has voiced “disbelief” over the latest version of ChatGPT that sounds eerily like the Hollywood actress.Credit…Tom Brenner/Reuters

OpenAI’s Scarlett Johansson problem

When OpenAI unveiled the latest version of ChatGPT last week, a chatbot that can listen to spoken questions and respond verbally, many users had one question: Is that Scarlett Johansson?

The actress, who provided the voice for an A.I. assistant in the movie “Her,” has now made clear that she did not do the same for OpenAI — and she demanded that the company stop using the sound-alike. It’s another sign of eroding trust in OpenAI, which has taken fire from creative industries and former employees.

“I was shocked, angered and in disbelief,” Johansson said in a statement on Monday, days after OpenAI’s product announcement kicked off debate about one of ChatGPT’s new virtual assistant voices, which is called Sky. The company wouldn’t confirm who provided the vocals, though Sam Altman tacitly encouraged the comparison, plugging the announcement with a single word — “her” — on social media and writing that the new ChatGPT “feels like A.I. from the movies.” (OpenAI’s chief technology officer, Mira Murati, said that was a coincidence.)

In her statement, Johansson shed more light on the matter:

Altman tried again two days before the ChatGPT product announcement, she added, but released the service before they could connect. Johansson — no stranger to waging war against big companies — suggested that she was ready to take legal action.

OpenAI backed down. While Altman said after Johansson’s statement that the actor behind the Sky voice had been cast before he reached out to the movie star, his company was pausing the use of Sky.

“We are sorry to Ms. Johansson that we didn’t communicate better,” he added.

The spat is another sign of eroding trust in OpenAI. Johansson explicitly linked her dispute to the fight over “deepfakes and the protection of our own likeness, our own work, our own identities.” (Though the fight in this case was over a sound-alike, not over an A.I.-generated copy.)

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