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Days before OpenAI demonstrated its new voice assistant named “Sky,” actress Scarlett Johansson revealed that the company’s CEO had approached her about licensing her voice for a virtual assistant. Despite her refusals, OpenAI used a voice that she found eerily similar to hers, prompting her to hire a lawyer and demand that they stop using it. This incident, which mirrored the plot of the film “Her” in which Johansson provided the voice for an A.I. system, led to OpenAI suspending the release of “Sky” and clarifying that it was not intended to mimic Johansson’s voice.

OpenAI, which developed multiple voices for its product named Breeze, Cove, Ember, Juniper, and Sky, stated that they could not disclose the names of the voice professionals for privacy reasons. CEO Sam Altman explained that the voice behind Sky was cast before any outreach to Johansson, and out of respect for the actress, they decided to pause using Sky’s voice in their products. They expressed regret over the lack of communication with Johansson and reiterated that the intention was never to resemble her voice.

Scarlett Johansson joined other high-profile individuals who have accused OpenAI of using creative work without permission, including authors, actors, and newspapers who have sued the company for copyright violations. This incident marks the second time in recent years that Johansson has taken a public stance against a prominent company, as she previously sued the Walt Disney Company for releasing “Black Widow” simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+. Before becoming a Marvel superhero, Johansson had established herself as a versatile actress in both independent films and Hollywood blockbusters.

In a statement, Johansson revealed that Altman had initially approached her in September about providing her voice for OpenAI’s assistant to help bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives. She shared that Altman believed her voice could be comforting to consumers amidst the growing influence of human-A.I. interactions. The unveiling of the assistant, which combined the conversational skills of the ChatGPT chatbot with the voice of a virtual assistant, drew attention for its seamless integration of audio, images, and video to provide comprehensive responses to queries.

Following the product event where the assistant’s voice was showcased, Johansson received feedback from friends and family that the voice sounded remarkably similar to hers. OpenAI’s chief technology officer emphasized that the resemblance to Johansson’s voice was unintentional and incidental, stating that the voice was not designed with the actress in mind. The company expressed awe at the realism of their A.I. technology, acknowledging that it felt like something out of a movie and marveling at the capabilities they had developed for consumers.

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