In OpenAI’s ‘her’ story, a crisis and a warning - Hindustan Times
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In OpenAI’s ‘her’ story, a crisis and a warning

ByHT Editorial
May 22, 2024 08:48 PM IST

Lawmakers and the industry must act now to lay down ethical and transparency guardrails, especially for Big Tech

Hollywood icon Scarlett Johansson called out OpenAI this week to explain why its new AI assistant sounded uncannily like her. Johansson revealed that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman had approached her in September to lend her voice to the system, a request she turned down. The company said it hired a voice actor prior to the outreach, implying it was a mere coincidence that GPT-4o sounded like the award-winning actor. In the demo last week, one of the voices, called Sky, could be heard holding a wide range of conversations, including funny and flirtatious banter. The demonstration was eerily similar to a character Johansson voiced in the 2013 sci-fi film Her, in which a man falls in love with an AI assistant.

Actor Scarlett Johansson had accused OpenAI of creating a voice for the ChatGPT system that sounded ‘eerily similar’ to her after she declined to voice the chatbot herself. (REUTERS) PREMIUM
Actor Scarlett Johansson had accused OpenAI of creating a voice for the ChatGPT system that sounded ‘eerily similar’ to her after she declined to voice the chatbot herself. (REUTERS)

The controversy captures the many things that appear to be going wrong with Silicon Valley’s latest gold rush, Artificial Intelligence (AI). It is increasingly believable that the similarity to Johansson’s voice may have been deliberate, especially since Altman sent out a cryptic, one-word “her” tweet days before the launch. If so, it violates the principle of consent — a problem AI companies have often been accused of as they build models capable of mimicking the work and identities of individuals. Even if OpenAI indeed found a voice actor who sounded just like Johansson, it raises questions about the corporate ethics of a company that did not want to take no for an answer. Most importantly, it serves as another reminder of the need to better scrutinise a technology that can potentially supplant many of the roles humans play in society and the economy. Lawmakers and the industry must act now to lay down ethical and transparency guardrails, especially for Big Tech, which seems to have the technical and monetary means to get away with it.

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