Actors union supports Scarlett Johansson in fight over ChatGPT voice assistant

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing thousands of actors and other media professionals, threw their support behind actress Scarlett Johansson after she expressed concerns over ChatGPT’s new voiced artificial intelligence (AI) assistant that she claims sounds “eerily similar” to her voice.

“We share in her concerns and fully support her right to have clarity and transparency regarding the voice used in developing the Chat GPT-4o appliance ‘Sky,'” a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Johansson on Monday said OpenAI CEO Sam Altman previously spoke with her about voicing an AI assistant, but she declined.

Last week, OpenAI released a demo of its “Sky” voice assistance, featured in its new AI model, GPT-4o. Johansson said Altman contacted her agent two days before the demo was released and asked her to reconsider, but “before we could connect, the system was out there.”

“When I heard the released demo, 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,” Johansson said in a statement to The Hill.

Altman appeared to nod to the AI assistant’s similarity to Johansson, posting a single word — “her” — on social media platform X, in potential reference to the 2013 film of the same title, in which Johansson plays an artificial intelligence that has a relationship with a person.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents about 160,000 actors and other media professionals, has been a major voice in the push to protect members regarding the creation and use of AI.

The union struck a deal last year with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that established guidelines for the use of AI. Under the deal, union members will be able to give their consent and be compensated for generative AI used to replicate their likeness.

The agreement, which went into effect last November to end the actors’ 118-day strike, laid out a structure for how a performer will be compensated through the use of the replica, including the time spent creating the replica and how it is used.

Johansson said she hired legal counsel to request OpenAI to take down the “Sky” voice.

“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 said. “I look forward to resolution in the form of transparency and the passage of appropriate legislation to help ensure that individual rights are protected.”

OpenAI on Monday maintained the “Sky” voice is not a mimic of Johansson, but rather a “different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice.”

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