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Sam Altman apologizes to Scarlett Johansson over AI voice similarity

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OpenAI chief Sam Altman apologized to Scarlett Johansson after she said she was "shocked" by a new synthetic voice that sounds "eerily similar" to hers.

The voice, "Sky," is part of OpenAI's latest GPT-4o technology, which features voices that are more humanlike. 

Sky's flirtatious and funny demeanor drew comparisons to Johansson's AI character in the 2013 film ‘Her.’ 

Altman has previously cited the film as an inspiration for future AI interactions and recently posted "her" on X, formerly Twitter.

Johansson expressed outrage, saying she was "shocked, angered, and in disbelief" that Altman would create a voice so similar to hers, noting he had previously offered to hire her to create a synthetic voice for OpenAI.

OpenAI said Monday on X, formerly Twitter, that it was working to "pause" Sky, with a company blogpost explaining that "Sky's voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice."

In a statement shared Tuesday with AFP, Altman said the company "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."

The company, in its blogpost, explained that it worked with professional voice actors on synthetic voices it named Breeze, Cove, Ember, Juniper and Sky.

OpenAI began working to cast the voice actors in early 2023, "carefully considering the unique personality of each voice and their appeal to global audiences."

Some of the characteristics sought were "a voice that feel timeless" and "an approachable voice that inspires trust," the company said.

The five final actors were flown to San Francisco to record in June and July, it said, with their voices launched into ChatGPT on September 25, 2023.

"To protect their privacy, we cannot share the names of our voice talents," OpenAI said. "We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity's distinctive voice."

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