Lord of the Flies

 In news

There have been a few worth noting, Flashman in Tom Brown’s School Days springs to mind. Draco Malfoy of Harry Potter fame is another. Bullies, of course, there’s a few about. We all love to see them get their comeuppance. And for the bullied, every waking moment is spent dreaming of them falling and failing. What misery they dispense and yet we remain fascinated with them, sometimes to the point of painful pleasure, hence the proliferation of bully-based literary stories and films to engage us in this twisted pastime.

For every bully there’s a wise hero. The Dandy had Bully Beef and his nemesis Chips. One wise hero and a person who isn’t giving up their dinner-money easily is Scarlett Johansson. Simply put, here’s how the story goes.

The Unforgiven

Allegedly, Sam Altman CEO of OpenAI has a favourite film: “Her” (2013). It’s about a chap who develops a relationship with a robot (intelligent personal assistant). The robot is voiced by the actress Scarlett Johansson. A weird, nerdy but thought-provoking movie that, as we slip unchecked into the world of AI, becomes increasingly relatable.

Back in the ‘real’ world of May 2024, OpenAI launches a ‘fab’ new whizzy gizmo. Billed as less boring to use than ChatGPT (…that’s so last year darling…), GPT-40 is multimodal, meaning you and me can interact with this LLM (large language model) by voice, text, and vision. It’s the voice bit that’s at the centre of this tale.

The machine, if you’re bothered to use it and there’s not much on the telly, has a synthesised female voice called “Sky”. Now here’s the thing. This voice was uncannily like Scarlett Johansson’s voice. You could say a bit like Scarlett in Her. Well, I never…or did he?

Scarlett, and a ‘hatful’ of well-paid lawyers one presumes, said Altman did nick her voice. Independent scientific tests showed Sky’s voice was 98% more like Johansson’s than other actresses. So, Johansson protested in strong terms. Especially as Altman had approached her in September 2023 asking her to voice his new toy. She turned him down. Imagine her anger when friends told her Sky sounded like her. It’s as if he had ignored her declension completely and went ahead anyway. Surely not. He made it worse by tweeting the single word “Her” on X.

When questioned the official response of Open AI was:

“The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers,”

So, that’s alright then. For a minute, we were worried there might have been some IP theft going on.


“Out of respect for Ms Johansson, we have paused using Sky’s voice in our products. We are sorry to Ms Johansson that we didn’t communicate better.”  

Looks like that disputation of lawyers was worth the brass.


It’s easy to be dismissive of Scarlett’s challenge. It’s not like she used telekinesis. Although that would have been some spectacle and would really have given Altman something to think about – or adopt in his next version of GPT products. She probably just used grey-suited lawyers. They aren’t very funky, but they can be an effective tool to fight back – if you have the cash.

I wouldn’t be so contemptuous. Fighting back against tech-push bullies, even if you have the means to do so, is noble and braver that most governments.

Back to the future

As we observe the passing of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, are we not also reminded of a world, in living memory for some, that instinctively knew how to deal with bullies.

“Tonight you are going to the Big City. You will have the opportunity to light a fire in the belly of the enemy that will burn his black heart out.”

Scarlett, you have flown deep into hostile air space, you are a modern-day ‘Bomber’ Harris. We salute you.

Murray Fairclough
Development Underwriter
OPUS Underwriting Limited  
+44 (0) 780 145 9940


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