- After OpenAI’s board launched CEO Sam Altman, industry peers and colleagues expressed their support.
- OpenAI’s management, including chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, looked ridiculous.
- Whatever happens, public opinion is clear: Altman looks like a hero.
When OpenAI released a statement late Friday afternoon announcing that CEO Sam Altman was out due to “an inconsistent lack of candor with management,” people assumed the worst.
For hours everyone wondered: had he embezzled? Taking care of yourself? Did he cover up some terrible corporate misconduct? Was there any personal scandal? Did he secretly write all ChatGPT replies himself?
Surely it had to be something SO terrible and horrible that it warranted such an extreme and highly unusual step of firing Altman over Google Meet.
NO! It turns out that the main problem was a disagreement about how commercialized a nonprofit company should be. This apparently put Altman at odds with chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who was also on the board.
(Note: There’s still a lot we don’t know about the history of Open AI, and it’s still discovering.)
It’s clear that Sam Altman has emerged from this situation looking like a hero so far. And this is a big difference from Friday, when it seemed that a potential scandal might be revealed.
Over the weekend, high-profile tech figures such as former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky posted messages in support of Altman. Schmidt called him a “hero.” And Marissa Mayer, who isn’t usually particularly spicy on Twitter – now X – tweeted her disapproval of Altman getting the pink slip.
Even Elon Musk, the co-founder of OpenAI, who earlier this month complicated his personal relationship with Altman and was openly hostile towards him on X, wrote that the board made a big mistake.
Sam Altman is my hero. He built a company from zero to $90 billion and changed our shared world forever. I can’t wait to see what he does next. I and billions of people will benefit from his future work – it will be simply amazing. Thank you…
— Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt) November 17, 2023
Other OpenAI collaborators, including former interim CEO Mira Murati, began tweeting cryptic heart emojis in support of Altman. After several failed negotiations to return to OpenAI, Altman now starts working at Microsoft.
It also seems very likely that a whole lot of OpenAI employees could leave to follow their former boss. Nearly 500 employees, including Mira Murati, signed an open letter demanding that Altman be reinstated and threatening to leave if this is not done.
Even Sutskever, who reportedly orchestrated the Open AI coup, signed the letter and posted on X that he regretted doing so. (Altman responded to this tweet with a heart emoji – your guess is as good as mine as to what that means.)
When the dust settled (well, maybe), the narrative emerged: Sam Altman came out of it very well. He is beloved by his employees, who are willing to quit their jobs as a show of loyalty to him, and is admired by his peers across the industry.
I very much regret my participation in the work of the Management Board. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we have built together and I will do everything in my power to bring the company back together.
— Ilya Sutskever (@ilyasut) November 20, 2023
Meanwhile, OpenAI’s management and the faction of people who were concerned about AI murdering the human race look ridiculous, theatrical, and incapable of making good decisions. (And in Sutskever’s case, he deeply regretted it 48 hours later.)
The Doomsday Faction comes out and looks more and more stupid: Atlantic reported that during a company retreat, Sutskever ordered a wooden effigy of an “unaligned” AGI – or artificial general intelligence – and set it on fire, and at a holiday party he led employees in a “feel the AGI” chant.
This faction had apparently made a hasty decision to fire Altman from his job and had drafted an affidavit that showed Altman was guilty of something terrible – and now the company might even be on the verge of dissolution.
If they truly feared that commercializing AI research would be bad for the future of humanity, they set in motion a chain of events that could well have shaken up the entire AI operation at Microsoft. And it’s probably not the outcome they expected.
It’s only lunchtime on Monday, so things could take another 180 by the end of the day. However, public opinion about the OpenAI meltdown is already established: convicts who think that artificial intelligence will unleash Judgment Day are frivolous nonsense, and Sam Altman is the hero.