Artificial intelligence has been dazzling the world for a year, but it does not have an answer for everything. For example, he does not know why the board of OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, has fired Sam Altman, its CEO until this Friday. “In my last knowledge update, in January 2022, there was no information indicating that Sam Altman had been fired from any prominent position,” ChatGPT replied this Saturday. The popular tool is not the only one without an answer. The sudden dismissal by videoconference of Altman, who had become a kind of global ambassador of artificial intelligence, has been strange, due to the forms and the lack of a clear explanation. The entire Silicon Valley is wondering what happened.
Altman received a text Thursday night in San Francisco. It had been a long and intense day. He had participated in a panel discussion at the CEO meeting held as part of the Asia Pacific Economic Summit (APEC). Nothing in his intervention could suggest his departure from OpenAI. He argued that artificial intelligence “will be the most transformative and beneficial technology that humanity has yet invented” and that it will not need strong regulation “for the next two generations.” “I am very excited. “I can’t imagine anything more exciting to work on,” he noted.
The text message that Altman received on his cell phone Thursday night was from Ilya Sutskever, chief scientist at OpenAI. He scheduled a meeting via videoconference at noon on Friday, San Francisco time. Although the firm is in the sphere of Microsoft, the tool to be used was not Teams, but Google Meet. Connecting was the entire OpenAI board with the exception of its president, Greg Brockman. There were Sutskever; and the three independent directors: Adam D’Angelo, head of Quora, Tasha McCauley, technology entrepreneur and Helen Toner, director of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
The meeting was short. Altman was told that he was fired and that the news would be made public immediately, according to Brockman, who pointed out that the next person to be summoned was himself. Sutskever texted him at 12:19 PM San Francisco time (9:19 PM in mainland Spain) to see if he could have a quick call. At 12:23 he sent her a link to connect to the video conference, also via Google Meet. At that time they told him that he was dismissed as president and member of the board, but not as an employee, since he was considered vital.
Immediately afterwards, OpenAI published the announcement of the layoffs on its website. At 12:28 he tweeted it. In less than half an hour and by video call, the board had fired two of the founders. Company employees were unaware, with the exception of Mira Murati, 34, born in Albania and educated in Canada, OpenAI’s chief technology officer chosen to provisionally replace Altman.
The OpenAI statement noted that the council had lost confidence in Altman, that the decision was made “after a deliberative review process by the council,” which did not indicate when it began or with what trigger. The bottom line is that Altman was not always frank or sincere in his communications with the board, hindering his ability to carry out his responsibilities. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” he added.
No explanation was given regarding Brockman’s dismissal as president in the note. Hours after being removed as president, Brockman submitted his resignation as an employee as well. “Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the council has done today,” he tweeted. “We are also trying to find out what exactly happened,” he added.
OpenAI has a complex governance structure, with a non-profit (and tax-exempt) organization at the top, OpenAI Inc, founded in 2015, which is controlled by the board of directors. Through its subsidiaries, this company controls and owns the majority of OpenAI Global LLC, the company created in 2019 in which Microsoft has invested as a reference partner, which also has its limited benefits. But the company makes it clear that “the nonprofit’s primary beneficiary is humanity, not OpenAI investors.”
The statement also refers to these principles and since Altman’s dismissal has coincided with a search for investors for the company with a valuation of nearly $90 billion, there is speculation that there may have been a clash as a result. The economic derivative may also be a sign of a hidden cultural battle, between those in favor of accelerating the development of artificial intelligence and those in favor of taking care of the security implications at every step.
The technology giant led by Satya Nadella was also caught by surprise by Altman’s dismissal. A few weeks ago they had participated together in the first OpenAI developer conference.
The employees also did not see what happened coming and some, according to local media, interpret it as a blow. The council meeting was reached with the decision made and it is not clear why Brockman did not participate in that meeting. In the end, it was the chief scientist with the support of the independents who took the helm, which did not sit well with some of the OpenAI workers.
According to The Information, A wave of resignations has begun. Jakub Pachocki, research director of the company; Aleksander Madry, head of a team that evaluated the potential risks of AI, and Szymon Sidor, a researcher at the firm since almost its founding, have announced their resignations in protest at Altman’s dismissal. The question is whether the drain on talent could compromise OpenAI’s progress.
At the same time, along with the mystery about the trigger for Altman’s sudden dismissal, the other question is what one of the best connected people in Silicon Valley will do now. “I’ll have more to say about what comes next,” she simply tweeted after his dismissal.
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