AI Drama: Scarlett Johansson vs. OpenAI

3 min readMay 21, 2024

In a real-life drama that rivals any Hollywood plot, Scarlett Johansson AKA the BLACK WIDOW takes on AI giant OpenAI over an eerily familiar voice.

Background and Main Details of the Feud

In an unexpected twist that seems straight out of a sci-fi movie, a real-life drama has unfolded between OpenAI, the renowned AI research lab, and Scarlett Johansson, the award-winning movie star. The story, as intriguing as any Hollywood plot, centers around a voice that sounds eerily familiar.

It all began in 2013 with the release of “Her,” a film where Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls head over heels for an AI assistant named Samantha, voiced by none other than Johansson. The film’s portrayal of a deep, emotional connection with an AI left an indelible mark on audiences and, apparently, on Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI.

Fast forward to 2023, OpenAI, riding the wave of its AI advancements, approached Johansson with a proposal: a license to use her distinctive voice in one of their upcoming AI products. Despite Altman’s admiration for her work, Johansson declined the offer.

The Feud Intensifies: New Developments in the Voice Controversy

The plot thickened in September 2023 when OpenAI launched a new voice interface for ChatGPT. Among the available voices was one named “Sky.” On May 11 of this year, OpenAI made another attempt to bring Johansson on board, with Altman personally asking her to reconsider her decision. Two days later, OpenAI announced the release of GPT-4o, an enhanced version of their language model with improved voice capabilities. Altman marked this milestone with a cryptic tweet that simply read: “Her.”

This seemingly innocuous post sparked a firestorm. Johansson, upon hearing the new voices, found that Sky’s voice was disturbingly similar to her own. “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,” she told NPR.

Johansson interpreted Altman’s “Her” tweet as a direct nod to her role in the film and a tacit acknowledgment that the similarity was intentional. She felt this was a clear violation of her wishes and a troubling example of how personal likenesses can be appropriated in the age of AI. “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,” she emphasized.

Taking the matter seriously, Johansson’s lawyers sent two letters to OpenAI, demanding an explanation of how the voice named Sky was developed. Her publicist confirmed to NPR that these letters ask OpenAI to detail the process and ensure that such issues of likeness appropriation are addressed transparently and ethically.

OpenAI’s Response and the Broader Implications

In response to the uproar, OpenAI published a post titled “How the voices for ChatGPT were chosen,” revealing a meticulous audition process. According to OpenAI, 400 submissions were considered as they sought out human actors. Ultimately, they chose five anonymous actors to provide voice talent, launching their voices on ChatGPT in September 2023.

The post clarified, “We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity’s distinctive voice — Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson, but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice.”

Despite these assurances, OpenAI has withdrawn Sky from their lineup. After all, Like The Register said; who wants to be on the wrong side of the Black Widow?

Nope, Definitely not Sam Altman and all his AI Armies.

This incident comes amidst broader concerns about the ethical use of AI. OpenAI’s safety boss, Jan Leike, recently resigned, citing the firm’s insufficient attention to the downsides of AI. Among these issues is the potential for AI to create fake speech that imitates well-known people — a practice that could severely distort political debate and spread misinformation.

Interestingly, Sky had been available since September 2023, yet Altman only referenced “Her” in May 2024, with Johansson’s public statement coming a week later. This timeline suggests a delayed but dramatic escalation, as noted by The Register




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