OpenAI Shows Records and Plays Recordings for Washington Post Showing They Really Did Hire an Unnamed Actress to Voice ‘Sky’

Nitasha Tiku, reporting for The Washington Post:

But while many hear an eerie resemblance between “Sky” and Johansson’s “Her” character, an actress was hired in June to create the Sky voice, months before Altman contacted Johansson, according to documents, recordings, casting directors and the actress’s agent.

The agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the safety of her client, said the actress confirmed that neither Johansson nor the movie “Her” were ever mentioned by OpenAI. The actress’s natural voice sounds identical to the AI-generated Sky voice, based on brief recordings of her initial voice test reviewed by The Post. The agent said the name Sky was chosen to signal a cool, airy and pleasant sound.

Joanne Jang, who leads AI model behavior for OpenAI, said that the company selected actors who were eager to work on an AI product. [...] Jang said she “kept a tight tent” around the AI voices project, making Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati the sole decision-maker to preserve the artistic choices of the director and the casting office. Altman was on his world tour during much of the casting process and not intimately involved, she said.

This seemingly clears OpenAI of any suspicion that they were lying about having hired an unnamed actress to provide Sky’s voice, and had actually trained it on recordings of Johansson. I will admit I had my suspicions. (It also speaks to the importance of trusted institutions like the Post.)

But as Tiku elaborates, hiring an unnamed actress to provide the voice doesn’t necessarily get OpenAI out of jeopardy:

He compared Johansson’s case to one brought by the singer Bette Midler against the Ford Motor Co. in the 1980s. Ford asked Midler to use her voice in ads. After she declined, Ford hired an impersonator. A U.S. appellate court ruled in Midler’s favor, indicating her voice was protected against unauthorized use. [...]

Several factors go against OpenAI, he said, namely Altman’s tweet and his outreach to Johansson in September and May. “It just begs the question: It’s like, if you use a different person, there was no intent for it to sound like Scarlett Johansson. Why are you reaching out to her two days before?” he said. “That would have to be explained.”

Tom Waits won a similar lawsuit against Frito-Lay in 1990, based on the Midler precedent.

Thursday, 23 May 2024