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SAG-AFTRA Supports Scarlett Johansson in Fight Over ChatGPT Voice Assistant

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SAG-AFTRA, the union representing thousands of actors and other media professionals, has declared its support for actress Scarlett Johansson following her concerns about ChatGPT’s new voiced artificial intelligence (AI) assistant, which she claims sounds “eerily similar” to her own 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 revealed that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman had previously approached her about voicing an AI assistant, an offer she declined. However, last week, OpenAI released a demo of its “Sky” voice assistant, featured in its new AI model, GPT-4o. Johansson stated that Altman contacted her agent just two days before the demo’s release, asking her to reconsider, but the system was already public before they could reconnect.

“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 seemed to acknowledge the resemblance by posting a single word — “her” — on social media platform X, likely referencing the 2013 film where Johansson voices an AI character.

SAG-AFTRA, representing about 160,000 actors and media professionals, has been a strong advocate for protecting members regarding AI. The union struck a deal last year with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, establishing guidelines for AI use. This agreement allows union members to consent and be compensated for generative AI used to replicate their likeness. The deal, which ended the actors’ 118-day strike in November, outlines how performers will be compensated for creating and using replicas.

Johansson has hired legal counsel to request that OpenAI remove 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 has maintained that the “Sky” voice is not a mimic of Johansson but rather “a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice.” However, the incident has sparked a broader conversation about the rights of actors in the age of sophisticated AI, as technology advances and computer-generated voices and images become increasingly indistinguishable from real ones. This raises critical questions about ownership, consent, and compensation for artists.

As the industry grapples with these issues, SAG-AFTRA remains committed to protecting its members’ rights and continues to push for federal legislation that would safeguard voices and likenesses. The union plans to engage with OpenAI and other stakeholders to establish clear guidelines and robust protections for all performers.

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