June 23, 2024

Only a few people inside OpenAI knew about Sam Altman’s efforts to use Scarlett Johansson’s voice for its new version of ChatGPT, according to a new report.

OpenAI earlier this month released ChatGPT-4o, an AI chatbot that’s 50% cheaper and twice as fast as its predecessor. OpenAI engineers excitedly demoed its abilities to see, hear, and talk — and when it talked, it sounded a lot Johansson. The actress was immediately flooded with emails from friends concerned that OpenAI had used her voice without consent, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Johansson had the same concern. So she hired legal counsel, released a statement saying she had turned down Altman’s request to use her likeness, and OpenAI took down the voice, dubbed “Sky.”

“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,” Johansson said in her statement. She said she first connected with Altman last September, but ultimately denied his request to use her voice “for personal reasons.”

The Journal, citing unnamed sources, reports that Altman connected with Johansson through his personal friendship with her agent, Bryan Lourd. But few OpenAI employees, even those working on ChatGPT-4o, knew about the Altman’s pursuit of Johansson, The Journal reports.

OpenAI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

When Lourd confronted Altman about the similarity between Johansson’s voice and Sky following the debut of the new ChatGPT, the OpenAI chief was surprised, The Journal reports.

“How these companies align with the actual individuals and creators is what’s key here — the verification of authenticity and receiving consent, and remuneration for consent,” Lourd told The Journal. “It’s not too late for these companies to slow down and put processes in place to ensure that the products that are being built are built transparently, ethically, and responsibly.”

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