ChatGPT Unveils a Recreation of Scarlett Johansson’s Voice

The reproduction and mimicking of voices is fueling the latest tension between artificial intelligence (AI) companies and creatives. In 2023, OpenAI’s artificial intelligence system ChatGPT launched a voice mode function that works as a text-to-speech tool in interactions with users. The AI voice feature originally included five distinct voices that users could choose from: Breeze, Cove, Ember, Juniper and Sky. After a demonstration of the feature on May 13, 2024, users noted that the “Sky” voice closely resembled the voice of Hollywood actor Scarlett Johansson. Many drew a connection between the ChatGPT voice and the AI system Samantha, voiced by Johansson in the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her. Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO, seemed to acknowledge this was not a coincidence by posting the unaccompanied word “her” on his X account. On May 20, Johansson released a statement on X expressing her disbelief and disappointment that OpenAI would recreate her voice without her permission. The actor explained that she had turned down a request from Altman that she voice the company’s AI system last September. Johansson went on to say that OpenAI made a second request to her team but released the voice feature with the “Sky” voice two days later before she could respond. OpenAI has agreed to pause its use of the “Sky” voice but claims that it was not intended to be a recreation of Johansson’s voice and is the natural voice of a hired voice actor.

This dispute reflects a larger issue of protecting individuals’ name, image and likeness against AI reproduction. Last year, SAG-AFTRA and WGA, unions which represent Hollywood’s actors and writers, won contract provisions protecting them against the nonconsensual use of AI to reproduce their images and likenesses after a months-long strike. There have also been instances of AI-generated images and voices that mimic celebrities without their consent, like the AI-generated George Carlin comedy special that premiered earlier this year (which was later permanently enjoined in response to a lawsuit filed by his estate).