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What Exactly Happened At OpenAI

Published by Slashdot on Sun, 19 Nov 2023

Microsoft's stock price plumetted 16% after OpenAI fired CEO Sam Altmanbut appears to have immediately recovered most of the drop in after-hours trading. Yet OpenAI's move "also blindsided key investor and minority owner Microsoft," writes Ars Technica, "reportedly making CEO Satya Nadella furious." Tech reporter Kara Swisher called the firing a "badly managed coup de Sam," tweeting more details Friday night. "Sources tell me that the profit direction of the company under Altman and the speed of development, which could be seen as too risky, and the nonprofit side dedicated to more safety and caution were at odds. One person on the Sam side called it a 'coup,' while another said it was the the right move." Ars Technica fills in the story:Sources told reporter Kara Swisher that OpenAI's Dev Day event on November 6, with Altman front and center in a keynote pushing consumer-like products, was an "inflection moment of Altman pushing too far, too fast." In a joint statement released Friday night, Altman and Brockman said they were "shocked and saddened" by the board's actions... OpenAI has an unusual structure where its for-profit arm is owned and controlled by a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity... Insiders say the move was mostly a power play that resulted from a cultural schism between Altman and [cofounder/board member Ilya] Sutskever over Altman's management style and drive for high-profile publicity. On September 29, Sutskever tweeted, "Ego is the enemy of growth." The schism is causing further turmoil on the inside. Three AI researchers loyal to Altman departed the company as well on Friday, resigning in reaction to the news: Jakub Pachocki, GPT-4 lead and OpenAI's director of research; Aleksander Madry, head of a team evaluating AI risk, and Szymon Sidor, an open source baselines researcher. Rumors have already begun swirling about potential internal breakthroughs at OpenAI that may have intensified the slow/fast rift within the company, owing to Sutskever's role as co-lead of a "Superalignment" team that is tasked with figuring out how to control hypothetical superintelligent AI. At the APEC CEO Summit on Thursday, Altman said, "Four times now in the history of OpenAIthe most recent time was just in the last couple of weeksI've gotten to be in the room when we push the veil of ignorance back and the frontier of discovery forward. And getting to do that is like the professional honor of a lifetime." The concern here not necessarily being that OpenAI has developed superintelligence, which experts say is unlikely, but that the new breakthrough Altman mentioned may have added pressure to a company that is fighting within itself to proceed safely (from its non-profit branch) but also make money (from its for-profit subsidiary). Former Google CEO/chairman Eric Schmidt tweeted, "Sam Altman is a hero of mine. He built a company from nothing to $90 Billion in value, and changed our collective world forever. I can't wait to see what he does next. I, and billions of people, will benefit from his future work- it's going to be simply incredible." And reacting to the news, angel investor Ron Conway tweeted Friday that it looked like "a Board Board coup that we have not seen the likes of since 1985 when the then-Apple board pushed out Steve Jobs. It is shocking; it is irresponsible; and it does not do right by Sam & Greg or all the builders in OpenAI." Addressing the charges of a "coup," OpenAI held "an impromptu all-hands meeting" Friday after the firing, according to a (paywalled) article from The Information:"You can call it this way," Sutskever said about the coup allegation. "And I can understand why you chose this word, but I disagree with this. This was the board doing its duty to the mission of the nonprofit, which is to make sure that OpenAI builds AGI that benefits all of humanity...." When Sutskever was asked whether "these backroom removals are a good way to govern the most important company in the world'" he answered: "I mean, fair, I agree that there is not an ideal element to it. 100%." Reporter Kara Swisher predicted that Altman "will have a new company up by Monday." "If i start going off, the openai board should go after me for the full value of my shares," Sam Altman posted on X Saturdayalthough Swisher wondered if Altman was simply trolling the company that had fired him. "He has almost no shares, I believe."Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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