ChatGPT-maker OpenAI is getting into the voice assistant business and showing off new technology that can clone a person’s voice, but says it won’t yet release it publicly due to safety concerns.

The artificial intelligence company unveiled its new Voice Engine technology Friday, just over a week after filing a trademark application for the name. The company claims that it can recreate a person’s voice with just 15 seconds of recording of that person talking.

OpenAI says it plans to preview it with early testers “but not widely release this technology at this time” because of the dangers of misuse.

“We recognize that generating speech that resembles people’s voices has serious risks, which are especially top of mind in an election year,” the San Francisco company said in a statement.

“We encourage steps like phasing out voice-based authentication as a security measure for accessing bank accounts and other sensitive information,” OpenAI said in a blog post. “We hope to start a dialogue on the responsible deployment of synthetic voices, and how society can adept to these new capabilities.”

“We are engaging with U.S. and international partners from across government, media, entertainment, education, civil society and beyond to ensure we are incorporating their feedback as we build,” OpenAI continued. “Based on these onversations and the results of these small-scale tests, we will make a more informed decision about whether and how to deploy this technology at scale.”

In New Hampshire, authorities are investigating robocalls sent to thousands of voters just before the presidential primary that featured an AI-generated voice mimicking President Joe Biden.

A number of startup companies already sell voice-cloning technology, some of which is accessible to the public or for select business customers such as entertainment studios.

OpenAI says early Voice Engine testers have agreed to not impersonate a person without their consent and to disclose that the voices are AI-generated. The company, best known for its chatbot and the image-generator DALL-E, took a similar approach in announcing but not widely releasing its video-generator Sora.

However a trademark application filed on March 19 shows that OpenAI likely aims to get into the business of speech recognition and digital voice assistant. Eventually, improving such technology could help OpenAI compete with the likes of other voice products such as Amazon’s Alexa.


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