Editor’s View: Why the RFID Community Should Care About the Scarlett Johansson, OpenAI Dispute

By James Hickey, Managing Editor, RFIDJournal.com

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  • The dispute between Johansson and OpenAI brings to focus broader questions of artificial intelligence development
  • The issue has ramifications for RFID and IoT companies when it comes to proprietary data, patents

As the use of artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly gets broader, where it is sourcing data from and the delivery to users is rightly being questioned.

The dispute between actress Scarlett Johansson and OpenAI is the latest case study of why we need rules around this new technology tool. Because despite its promotions of its benefits, there are legitimate questions that business leaders and everyday people should be asking about AI.

Johansson, who voiced an AI chatbot in the 2013 movie Her, objected to an “eerily similar” voice to hers being used by OpenAI for their new GPT-4o chatbot after declining an offer from company CEO Sam Altman to be the voice.

“He told me that he felt that by my voicing the system, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers to feel comfortable with the seismic shift concerning humans and AI,” Johansson wrote in a statement.

The actress noted that as recently as two days before its release, Altman asked her to reconsider

But when OpenAI debuted GPT-4o, touting its ability to hold conversations in voice chats, Johansson was alerted by family and friends that the voice of Sky reminded them of her. Altman even tweeted a single word “her” the same day it was launched, which the actress felt “insinuated that the similarity was intentional.”

This is the latest concerns around how OpenAI develops its technology. Notably, after the company disbanded the team that focused on long-term AI risks and researcher Jan Leike left the company, she wrote the company’s “safety culture and processes have taken a backseat to shiny products.”

By now you are asking how does a voice used by an AI company that is similar to an actress relevant to the RFID Journal community? Simple. It’s about the guard rails and lack of them currently in place that has the potential to hurt your company and its propriety data.

Plainly put, there are no laws governing how AI data is obtained and then used. This puts at risk the use of copyrighted and possibly patented material. If you want a case study of the downside of AI, look no further than the promises of social media when it first began and what it has now tuned into.

In response to these concerns, legislative bodies are looking to put in place restrictions. European Union member states recently gave final agreement to the world’s first major law for regulating artificial intelligence.

The AI Act applies a risk-based approach, ensuring applications of the technology are treated differently, depending on the perceived threats they pose to society.

The law prohibits applications of AI that are considered “unacceptable” in terms of their risk level. High-risk AI systems cover autonomous vehicles or medical devices, which are evaluated on the risks they pose to the health, safety, and fundamental rights of citizens.

Generative AI systems that are currently commercially available, like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini, and Microsoft’s Copilot, get a “transition period” of 36 months from the day it comes into force to get their technology compliant with the legislation.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators released a legislative plan that offers few details on regulations to address its risks. The lawmakers kicked the can down to  congressional committees and agencies for oversight on AI—including protections against copyright violations caused by the technology.

Let us be clear: there are clear benefits to using AI. But if we have learned anything during previous and still current technological revolutions, it is impossible to put the genie back into the bottle once it is out.

The permission of use is what is universal about the disagreement between a Hollywood superstar actress and one of the leading artificial intelligence companies and those companies in the RFID and IoT space.

Rules—laws—are needed to protect not just your personal information but the data companies are using to build their products and businesses.

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